A Texas Grand jury indicted Netflix Tuesday over the French film Cuties, charging the streaming company with “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child.”
As CNN reports, the indictment was initiated by criminal district attorney Lucas Babin and presented before a Tyler County grand jury. In its indictment, the grand jury said the film had “no literary, artistic, political or scientific value.”
“The legislators of this state believe promoting certain lewd material of children has destructive consequences,” Babin said in a statement. “After hearing about the movie Cuties and watching it, I knew there was probably cause to believe it was criminal. 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,” he continued.
Babin is the son of Texas Congressman Brian Babin, who has also denounced the film as child pornography, and joined other congressional lawmakers in calling for Attorney General William Barr to prosecute Netflix earlier this year, reports the Texas Tribune.
The feature film, also known by its original French title, Mignonnes, has no apparent ties to Texas, aside from being available for viewing there via Netflix’s platform. The coming-of-age film centers on Amy, the 11-year-old daughter of Muslim Senegalese immigrants, as she navigates girlhood, womanhood, and the blurred lines between the two.
The movie won filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré a directing award at Sundance and enjoyed praise from critics. But the film became the subject of controversy after a Netflix international promotional poster and trailer for the film showed the movie’s preteen stars wearing revealing dance outfits and posing provocatively. Netflix apologized and changed the promotional materials so they were more reflective of the film, but the criticism stuck.
Since then, most of the controversy has centered on a 3-minute portion of the 1-hour and 36-minute film, which shows Amy and other preteen girls gyrating and dancing suggestively. Doucouré says the scene and the movie itself are intended as a critique of the hypersexualization of young girls. The 35-year-old filmmaker told Slate recently that Cuties—her directorial debut—reflects her own experiences growing up in France, and what it felt like being seen 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 recently told Slate.
While hypersexualization comes up in the film, it’s far from the only concern for Doucouré, who also touches on how the internet has made girlhood more challenging, as well as the different labor and familial expectations pinned on girls. Still, many of those layers have been collapsed underneath critics’ complaints about the sexualization of preadolescents.
“I hope they’re going to realize that we’re actually on the same side and we’re fighting the same fight against hypersexualization of children,” Doucouré told The Root last month.
Attorney Babin claims he watched the film.
The indictment, which didn’t name any Netflix executives, means the studio and streaming platform could face a fine of up to $20,000 if found guilty. As the Texas Tribune notes, those fines could increase twofold if the court finds the company financially benefited from the “lewd material” depicting children.
Netflix denounced the Texas indictment in a statement to CNN.
“Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a Netflix spokesperson told the news outlet. “This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”