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Grand jury indicts Netflix over 'lewd' depiction of children in 'Cuties'

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A grand jury in Texas has indicted Netflix on a criminal charge of promoting “lewd” depictions of children for offering the film “Cuties” on its streaming service. 

Netflix has garnered controversy in recent months for its decision to carry the French film “Cuties,” which features 11-year-old girls dancing provocatively and simulating sex acts, and has been compared to child porn. 

Texas state Rep. Matt Schaefer posted a photo on Twitter Tuesday of the first page of the indictment, made last month by a grand jury in Tyler County.

Tuesday's indictment said Netflix did “knowingly promote visual material which depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or public area” of a minor which “has no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Tyler County Criminal District Attorney Lucas Babin said in a statement posted to social media on Tuesday that after watching “Cuties,” he believed “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?” stated Babin.

“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.”

Netflix, which has lost more than 2.5 million subscribers, defended its decision to release the film, also known as “Mignonnes” in French, arguing that the movie is meant to send a moral message against the sexualizing of children.

“'Cuties' is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” said Netflix in a statement given to NBC News on Tuesday. “This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”

Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said in a statement that he had queried Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about concerns regarding the film, especially the potentially illegal content.

“Asked whether the sexualization of young girls depicted in 'Cuties' constituted criminal conduct, Netflix offered only conclusory statements in denial. I am not convinced,” said Lee.

“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.”

Written and directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, the film centers on an 11-year-old Senegalese Muslim girl who joins an all-girl dance team that engages in sexually-suggestive dance routines. 

Doucouré told Medium that they "auditioned 700 girls" for the film. Questions have since been raised about the audition tapes and what the filmmakers asked each girl to do during the audition. 

Last month, many urged former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama to speak out against "Cuties" since they signed a $50 million deal with Netflix. Viewers made similar demands of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, who signed a $150 million deal with Netflix. 

Netflix first garnered outrage over “Cuties” over its promotional artwork that showed the young girls, including the main character, in scantily clad outfits and posing suggestively.

While Netflix apologized for the artwork and changed its advertising for “Cuties,” many still called for users to cancel their accounts with the streaming service for carrying the film.

Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was among the prominent political figures to condemn the film, taking to Twitter to call on people to cancel their subscriptions to Netflix.

“[Netflix’s] child porn ‘Cuties’ will certainly whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade. 1 in 4 victims of trafficking are children. It happened to my friend's 13 year old daughter. Netflix, you are now complicit. #CancelNetflix,” tweeted Gabbard.

Last month, the data analytics firm YipitData found that by Sept. 12, the cancellation rate for Netflix was eight times higher than the average daily levels recorded last month.

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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