A grand jury in Tyler County, Texas, has indicted Netflix on charges of “disseminating lewd material” for distributing the French film Cuties.
The indictment, which specifically names company co-CEOs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos, accuses the Netflix of “the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 years of age, which appeals to the prurient interest in sex and has no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
No arraignment date has been set.
Netflix released a statement saying: “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”
Under Texas state law, the Netflix faces a possible fine of up to $20,000, which could go up if the streaming company is found to have profited from the crime. However, as a corporation, a conviction would carry no jail time.
The film has drawn the ire of Alt-Right conspiracy theorists, including QAnon, as well as Republican lawmakers. Online activists promoted a Netflix boycott with the hashtags #CancelNetflix and #SaveTheChildren, which led to an 8X spike in the company’s churn rate in September.
Shortly after the film’s release, a group of 34 House Republicans signed a letter urging Attorney General William Barr to bring Federal charges against Netflix executives for distributing child pornography.
“The First Amendment protects corporations and individuals from obscenity law if they can prove artistic expression, but this protection rightfully does not apply to child pornography,” they wrote. “Cuties is child pornography and its distributors should be prosecuted accordingly.”
Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, Cuties (originally called Mignonnes in France) is a coming-of-age story about a young French-Senegalese girl named Amy, who joins a hip-hop dance troupé and finds herself torn between the traditional values of her Muslim upbringing and the expectations placed on young girls in Western society. The film depicts the suggestive dance routines of modern hip-hop music, and the girls are dressed in scanty outfits.
But the filmmaker explained that cuties is meant as a critique of the hyper-sexualization of young girls on social media and in pop culture, and is a reflection of her own experiences growing up, torn between two different modes of femininity.
Cuties won a directing award at 2020 Sundance Film Festival in January, where it received generally positive reviews, before landing on Netflix in September.
At the time, a Netflix spokesperson responded: “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up – and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”
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Freelancer Scott Lehane has been covering the film and TV industry for almost 30 years from his base in southern Ontario, near Toronto. Along with several Future plc-owned publications, he has written extensively for Below the Line, CinemaEditor, Animation World, Film & Video and DTV Business in the U.S., as well as The IBC Daily, Showreel and British Cinematographer in the U.K. and Encore and Broadcast Engineering News in Australia, to name few. He currently edits Future’s Next TV, B+C and Multichannel News daily SmartBriefs. He spends his free time in the metaverse, waiting for everyone else to show up.