As TFTP reported last month, the Netflix movie "Cuties" has raised quite the controversy online. Many folks, including this author — though I admit to only watching a brief clip — found the film to be utterly shocking. In the brief clip I watched, several 11-year-old girls were grabbing their prepubescent selves in a sexual manner in what could be described as eye candy to a child predator.
Though the outrage over the sexualization of small children was bipartisan, many in the media attempted to paint it as some right versus left issue. It is not. The clip which was originally posted to Twitter, which I shared to show the disturbing nature of this film, shows zoomed in camera angles of little girls grabbing their private parts.
I'll be the first to admit that when the outrage was sparked in August, I thought it was a bit overblown. I wrote it off to perceptiveness bias with many on the religious right being unable to accept the cultural roots of "twerking" and subsequently being "offended" by girls doing a dance conservatives simply didn't want to understand or accept. However, that was only after watching the trailer. When watching the clip that was released along with the movie in September, all that went out the window.
I originally thought the anger over the film was misdirected — and much of it likely was — but my outrage at the hypersexualization of prepubescent little girls literally grabbing their privates getting a worldwide platform in the midst of a child sex abuse epidemic has nothing to do with some puritan values or obstinance, but rather an appeal to humanity.
Nevertheless, after the storm of controversy erupted online, Netflix doubled down on the release of the film calling it a "social commentary against the sexualization of young children."
While I do not doubt that director Maïmouna Doucouré had this intent with her film, the idea that children were in fact extremely sexualized in the film, negates any point she was trying to make.
One need not literally kick a dog or set a cat on fire to make a point about animal cruelty just like one need not sexually exploit little girls to make a point about the sexualization of young children. But I digress. Apparently, even with the disturbing nature of the scenes I watched, Netflix was told they broke no laws — until now.
A grand jury in Tyler County has indicted the media giant — specifically citing "Cuties" — on charges of “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child,” a state felony. The indictment claims Cuties appeals to the “prurient interest in sex” and the material holds “no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
The court filing claims Netflix knowingly promoted work that "depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 years of age at the time the visual material was created, which appeals to the prurient interest in sex."
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“After hearing about the movie Cuties and watching it, I knew there was probable cause to believe it was criminal,” Tyler County District Attorney Lucas Babin said in a press release. “If such material is distributed on a grand scale, isn’t the need to prosecute more, not less?”
Texas Rangers served a summons to Netflix last week.
Because it was the corporation that was indicted and not its executives, no one will be going to jail if Netflix is found guilty. In Texas, if a corporation is convicted of promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child, they face a mere $20,000 fine, according to the penal code.
According to the Texas Tribune, if the court further finds that the company benefited financially from a crime, the penalties can increase to twice the amount earned.
The decision to indict Netflix is a big one considering many people thought the calls to boycott Netflix would be a "flash in the pan." Since the release of the trailer, some 2 million subscribers have cancelled their Netflix subscriptions, according to Wells Fargo analyst Steven Cahall.
Thomas Leatherbury, director of the First Amendment clinic at Southern Methodist University, called the indictment an “unusual test case” and said it was “clearly filed to make a point.”
According to the Tribune, Leatherbury said it’s “troubling” when there is a “criminal charge related to First Amendment activity, particularly expressive activity, like a movie.”
This case will certainly invoke opinions over the first amendment right to make a film and it will likely set a precedent for future cases.
In response to the charges Netflix released a statement to the AP, saying, “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”
What do you think? Is this indictment warranted or is this a political move by the puritan base?