A Tyler County grand jury on Tuesday charged the streaming platform for the “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child,” accusing the film of appealing “to the prurient interest in sex” and saying it has “no literary, artistic, political, or scientific value,” according to a copy of the indictment obtained by CNN.
Lucas Babin, a criminal district attorney in Tyler County, said in a statement, “the legislators of this state believe promoting certain lewd material of children has destructive consequences. If such material is distributed on a grand scale, isn’t the need to prosecute more, not less? A grand jury in Tyler county found probable cause for this felony, and my job is to uphold the laws of this State and see that justice is done.”
Netflix denounced the assertions in the indictment.
“Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a spokesperson for Netflix said in a statement to CNN. “This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”
Also known by its original French title “Mignonnes,” the movie tells the story of 11-year-old Amy as she starts to rebel against the norms of her conservative Senegalese, Muslim family and becomes fascinated by a classmate who leads a dance crew that performs suggestive moves in revealing outfits.
The film wrestles with challenging themes, including the ways in which internet images affect girls’ notions about their bodies and sexuality from a young age.
In a statement to Variety last month, a Netflix spokesperson called the movie a “powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up” and encouraged people who felt strongly about those issues to watch it.
What’s behind the controversy
“Cuties” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, garnering positive reviews from critics and earning director Maïmouna Doucouré an award at the festival. Netflix acquired the rights to the film, and it was released internationally on the platform in September.
The movie started getting backlash on the internet even before it was released on the streaming service, in part because of a particularly provocative image from the movie that Netflix used in a promotional poster. The platform eventually apologized and updated the artwork, saying the previous marketing materials were inappropriate and not representative of the film.
A spokesperson for Doucouré did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment.
However, the director told Deadline last month that she received multiple death threats surrounding the incident, and that Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos had called her directly to apologize.
Despite the film’s overall message, it continued to prompt outrage and criticism from some corners of the internet, leading the hashtag #CancelNetflix to trend on Twitter in September.
Prominent lawmakers including Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also weighed in, arguing that the movie sexualized young girls and potentially attracted pedophiles.
Many of the critics, it appeared, had not seen the film in its entirety — a notion also suggested by Doucouré.
“I of course had hoped that it would have prompted a debate on the hypersexualization of preadolescents,” she told Slate in an interview. “But never in my dreams had I imagined that my point of view would become so misinterpreted.”
Doucouré said that journey that the character Amy takes in the film were based on her own experiences as a young girl, recalling that she felt as though the world viewed her as a woman when she still felt like a child.
“My aesthetic take, aesthetic perspective is to hold a mirror in front of the world so that we as adults are able to see what we have created, what is our responsibility towards our children, in the way we have brought them up,” she told Slate.