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Texas County issues indictment of Netflix for ‘lewd exhibition’ in Cuties

FILE - This image released by Netflix shows the cast of the coming-of-age film "Cuties." The backlash to the French independent film “Mignonnes,” or “Cuties,” started before it had even been released because of a poster that went viral for its provocative depiction of its young female actors. (Netflix via AP, File)

TYLER COUNTY, Texas — A grand jury in the small east Texas county of Tyler has indicted Netflix on criminal charges for promoting “lewd visual material depicting [a] child” in their film ‘Cuties.’

The streaming giant drew criticism shortly after it released the film on Sept. 9 in the U.S., over accusations of overly sexualizing the group of pre-teen girls the film focuses on.

Tyler County DA Lucas Babin says that under Section 43.262 of the Texas Penal code ‘Cuties,’ and Netflix by association, violates the law by knowingly promoting: “Visual material that depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child, which appeals to the prurient interest in sex and has no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

“As a district attorney, I have to sift through countless cases and make calls every day on how to keep our communities safe,” Babin said.

Posted by Tyler County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday, October 6, 2020

“In our county, it is not uncommon for me to confront cases with underage victims. After hearing about the movie Cuties and watching it, I knew there was probable cause to believe it was criminal under Section 43.262 of the Texas Penal code.

“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.”

Babin says Texas Rangers served Netflix with a summons on Oct. 1. 

Criticism

In the weeks following the release of Cuties on Netflix, the hastag #cancelnetflix began trending on social media and led cancelations of the service to jump by five times their normal rate.

Lawmakers also joined in the call for Netflix to pull the French film.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, floated the idea in a letter he sent to Netflix Chairman and CEO Reed Hastings last month. He suggested the film could result in an investigation involving US Attorney General William Barr.

In speaking on KSL NewsRadio’s Live Mic this week, Lee says he now thinks a national investigation is inevitable. 

“I think it’s inevitable. I think it’s certain that it’s going to happen, and I think it makes sense to at least ask those who were in charge of enforcing these laws to take a look at it.


Hear the full conversation with Lee Lonsberry here:
 

“As a former federal prosecutor myself,  I’m convinced that this is of sufficient gravity that it needs to be looked at,” Lee said. 

In response to the Senator’s letter Netflix says, ” Cuties is not pornographic(2), does not contain underage nudity(3), and does not depict sexual acts, simulated or otherwise(4). The film does not glamorize or promote the sexualization or exploitation of children — just the opposite.”

In August, Netflix tweeted an apology for the original promotional poster which included the four young girls that starred in the film posed in a suggestive manner. But in a statement to the Deseret News Netflix defended the film on the whole saying it 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.”

Lee says that statement, along with the letter he received, is not enough. 

“I have to say that I am unsatisfied by Netflix’s response. Asked whether the sexualization of young girls depicted in Cuties constituted criminal conduct, Netflix offered only conclusory statements in denial. I am not convinced. …

“But setting aside the legal question, there is a more pressing moral question. Netflix itself acknowledges that the conduct of the young girls in Cuties ‘is inappropriate, shameful, and a hallmark of a cultural failing.’

“I couldn’t agree more.

“What I cannot understand, however, is how Netflix can condemn the conduct depicted in Cuties, while celebrating the film and filmmakers who asked several underage girls to stand in front of a camera and engage in that same “inappropriate, shameful” conduct for all the world to see.”

What could happen?

According to the Texas Tribune, the current case involving Netflix in Tyler County could see the corporation face a fine of up to $20,000 if it is convicted of a felony. In addition, if the court finds the company benefitted financially from a crime, it could face penalties of up to twice the amount earned. 

KSL has reached out to Netflix but they have not yet responded to a request to comment.