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updated 9:21 AM, Oct 22, 2020 America/Chicago

Tyler County grand jury indicts Netflix

Spider 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Tyler County District Attorney Lucas Babin being interviewed for the East Texan Magazine in August 2020.

By Chris Edwards

TYLER COUNTY – A Tyler County grand jury has indicted the streaming media service provider Netflix, Inc. for promoting depictions of “the lewd exhibition” of a child.

The indictment was handed down on Sept. 23 in the 1A District Court, and stems from the promotion of the controversial film Cuties. The summons was served on the Los Gatos, Calif.-based company on last Thursday, according to Tyler County District Attorney Lucas Babin.

Babin cited section 43.262 of the state penal code, which states that it is illegal to “knowingly promote visual material that depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or public area of a clothed or partially clothed child,” which is the charge issued in the indictment: Promotion of Lewd Visual Material Depicting Child, which, by statute, is a State Jail felony. According to a statement from Shannon Edmonds, who serves as the director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, there is no jail time that comes with a conviction of a company. The conviction would carry a maximum $20,000 fine, however.

Within the indictment, it is alleged that the film contains “no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

“As a district attorney, I have to sift through countless cases and make calls every day on how to keep our communities safe,” Babin said. “In our county, it is not uncommon for me to confront cases with underage victims.”

He added that he had heard about the film and after watching it, knew there was probable cause to believe it was liable to criminal prosecution under the penal code he cited.

The film has met its share of controversy with the general public and from lawmakers since it was released on Netflix. The individuals named in the indictment as “high managerial agent[s]” are Wilmot Reed Hastings, Jr. and Theodore Anthony Sarandos, Jr., who co-founded and serve as co-CEOs of the company.

The film’s plot centers around an 11-year-old Senegalese girl named Amy, who lives with her mother in a poor Parisian neighborhood. The girl, who is from a fundamentalist Muslim family, is enamored with the behavior of a neighbor girl who dances with an adult-style dance group. According to a review of the film, the contrasting values of fundamentalism versus the sexually suggestive dance moves used by the dance troupe are the heart of the film’s conflict. In a statement released to media, a Netflix spokesperson said that the film is a work of “social commentary against the sexualization of young children.”

Cuties is described as a French coming-of-age comedy-drama and was released internationally on Netflix on Sept. 9. The film’s marketing campaign drew widespread scrutiny online for allegedly sexualizing the child actresses depicted on posters and other promotional materials. Prior to the Netflix release, the film had not met with controversy, and in its French iteration (as Mignonnes) won an award at the Sundance Film Festival for its director Maimouna Doucoure.

Many who have boycotted the film online have used the hashtag “#CancelNetflix” on social media to voice opposition and concerns. The statement trended on Twitter throughout the past month.

Recently, State Rep. James White (R-Hillister) submitted a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton concerning the film. White said in the letter that he has received numerous inquiries about Netflix’s distribution of the film from constituents who are “appalled at the prospect of the mass distribution of a movie that sexualizes young girls through dance scenes and even exposes the bare breast of a minor.”

White is urging the AG to utilize its “robust cyber unit” to investigate the production and distribution of Cuties for violation(s) of state and federal child pornography statutes.

Senator Ted Cruz has also weighed in on the film and called on the Department of Justice to investigate. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Cruz claimed the film “routinely fetishizes and sexualizes these pre-adolescent girls as they perform dances simulating sexual conduct in revealing clothing.” Cruz calls upon Barr and the DOJ to investigate whether federal law was broken in the production or distribution of Cuties.

The lawmakers who spoke out all want an examination as to whether Netflix or the filmmakers broke federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography with the release of Cuties.

Babin said that he and his staff of the Tyler County District Attorney’s Office are subject to rules limiting their ability to make public comments about pending cases and the defendants in those cases. “All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” he said.