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Netflix Requests Federal Judge Block ‘Cuties’ Lawsuit

March 4, 2022 by Reece Nations
Netflix Requests Federal Judge Block ‘Cuties’ Lawsuit
A still from "Cuties," the French-language film from writer-director Maïmouna Doucouré. (Photo: Netflix)

TYLER, Texas — Lawyers for Netflix asked a U.S. District Court for injunctive relief in a lawsuit brought by Tyler County District Attorney Lucas Babin on Thursday.

Netflix was indicted by Babin in September 2020 for promoting and streaming the controversial French-language film “Cuties” a coming-of-age story and social commentary on the hyper-sexualization of young girls. The movie depicts young girls who are members of a dance troupe in Paris and debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020.

A grand jury returned the indictment under a state law that illegalizes “the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of an unclothed, partially clothed, or clothed child.” Promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child constitutes a state jail felony in Texas and carries a fine of up to $20,000, according to the penal code.

“As Babin is well-aware, “Cuties” violates no laws: it contains nothing obscene, it contains no scenes of children engaged in ‘sexual conduct,’ it contains no ‘lewd depictions of minors,’” the lawyers for Netflix wrote in the complaint filed Thursday. “Indeed, other prosecutors in Texas have not only refused to take up for his ill-advised indictment[s], they have also conceded that “Cuties” is not criminal but has ‘serious political, literary, and artistic value.’”

Babin dropped the original indictment and brought four new indictments under a different statute in a procedural move on Wednesday. The complaint goes on to assert that each of Babin’s five indictments filed against Netflix violates the company’s First Amendment rights to free speech.

Netflix’s complaint seeks a temporary restraining order and permanent injunctive relief from Babin’s lawsuit. Babin, himself a former actor, is the son of U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas.

The film garnered condemnation and criticism from numerous lawmakers for its themes, including former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., among others. In September 2020, 34 members of Congress sent a letter to then-Att. Gen. William Barr recommending charges be brought against Netflix over its distribution of the film.

In a joint letter also sent in September 2020, Ohio Att. Gen. Dave Yost, Florida Att. Gen. Ashley Moody, Louisiana Att. Gen. Jeff Landry and Texas Att. Gen. Ken Paxton called on Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to remove “Cuties” from its streaming service. Shortly after the film’s debut on Netflix, the hashtags #CancelNetflix and #BoycottNetflix were trending across social media and a Change.org petition sprouted up calling for its removal.

“A film that shows girls as young as 11 [years old] engaging in highly sexualized dance routines is inappropriate,” Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said in a written statement. “I support artistic expression in film but this is exploitative, dangerous and borders on child pornography.”

But the film has also been defended for its commentary on social media’s impact on adolescent users and for being a critique on the sexualization of young children. Critics have given “Cuties” generally favorable reviews and its writer-director Maïmouna Doucouré won an award at Sundance the year it premiered there.

In a written statement, the National Society of Film Critics voiced its support for “Cuties” and characterized the indictment as baseless and an example of political grandstanding.

“The indictment states that “Cuties” has ‘no literary, artistic, political, or scientific value,’ which is legalese for pornography,” NSFC said. “This charge is absurd on its face. “Cuties”, which focuses on the experiences of a young Senegalese girl living in France, is a feminist examination of the oppressive roles available to young girls in the modern world.

“The protagonist, Amy, is torn between a restrictive, traditional Muslim family that demands supplication from women, and a clique of prepubescent dancers, anxious to replicate the hyper-sexualized behavior they see in YouTube videos and club culture.”

The Well News reached out to Netflix and Babin’s office for comment on the matter but has yet to receive a response.

Reece can be reached at reece@thewellnews.com.

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