Netflix has defended the controversial film Cuties after it emerged the streaming giant is facing a criminal charge in Texas over the movie’s allegedly “lewd” depiction of children.
Cuties follows an 11-year-old Senegalese girl living in Paris who rebels against her conservative family’s traditions when she becomes fascinated with a “free-spirited dance crew”.
A grand jury in Tyler County, Texas, has indicted the company on the charge of “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child”. The indictment claims Cuties appeals to the “prurient interest in sex” and the material holds “no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value”.
A Netflix representative told PA: “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualisation of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”
The film became a target of protesters after Netflix admitted it had used “inappropriate artwork” to market it on the streaming platform. Netflix subsequently became the subject of more wide-ranging attacks and a campaign for subscribers to cancel their membership.
Following the backlash, the company encouraged people to watch the movie before passing judgment. Writer-director Maimouna Doucouré said she considers it to be “a deeply feminist film with an activist message” that is a “mirror of today’s society, a mirror sometimes difficult to look into”.
She said she got the idea after seeing a group of 11-year-old girls dancing in a way “you would see in a video clip” during a neighbourhood gathering in Paris. The director said she had spent the next year and a half meeting hundreds of pre-teens to learn about how they felt about their femininity in today’s society, and how they felt about their self-image in the era of social media.
The film premiered at the Sundance film festival in January this year, where Doucouré won the world cinema dramatic directing award.
The Hollywood Reporter wrote that the calls to boycott Netflix would be a “flash in the pan” after some initial success. Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall suggestws that some 2 million subscribers had dropped the service in the US and Canada over the last three months, well above the streaming service’s normal “churn” rate, but that the cause was not clear, given that many more subscribers had joined the platform during lockdown.