Netflix is currently facing criminal charges in Texas over its controversial coming-of-age movie, Cuties.
The streaming platform has reportedly been indicted by a grand jury in Tyler County, Texas, over claims that the French drama sexually exploits the young actors who appear in it.
Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré (Maman), Cuties tells the story of 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant Amy (Fathia Youssouf), who lives in an impoverished neighbourhood of Paris. Amy ends up joining a dance troupe, with the girls copying dances they see on social media.
Doucouré has said that the film was inspired by her own experiences growing up as a refugee girl caught between two cultures, and has described it as being critical of the sexualisation of children.
Speaking with TIME magazine last month, Doucouré said:
For me, this film is sounding an alarm. This film tries to show that our children should have the time to be children, and we as adults should protect their innocence and keep them innocent as long as possible.
According to the film synopsis, Amy ‘becomes fascinated with a clique of rebellious girls at her middle school who choreograph dance routines and wear crop tops and heels. They talk about Kim Kardashian and diets, practise ‘twerking’ and giggle about boys and sex-related things that they don’t yet understand.’
The release of the film on Netflix has sparked a fierce backlash, most notably from Senator Ted Cruz who has accused the film of sexualising young girls.
In a letter addressed to Attorney General William Barr last month, Cruz asked the Department of Justice to conduct an investigation into the production and distribution of the film, tweeting:
Following Netflix’s disturbing promotion of Cuties, I sent a letter calling on the DOJ to investigate whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.
According to court papers tweeted by state lawmaker Matt Schaefer, the indictment states that Netflix has been charged with the following:
Promoting material in Cuties film which depicts lewd exhibition of pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 yrs of age which appeals to the prurient interest in sex.
The indictment goes on to state that the movie doesn’t hold any ‘literary, artistic, political or scientific value’.
Defending the film in a statement given to Variety, Netflix said:
Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.
At the time of writing, no arraignment date has been set.