Lucas BabinBy Chris Edwards
LUFKIN – The streaming video giant Netflix has launched a suit in federal court against Tyler County District Attorney Lucas Babin.
The suit alleges the company “will suffer irreparable harm” due to an indictment that was handed down last Wednesday in Tyler County’s District Court against the company. Babin dropped an earlier charge filed in 2020 against Netflix for promoting depictions of “the lewd exhibition” of a child, and instead issued four stronger charges of child pornography.
The initial indictment stemmed from the media carrier’s distribution of a controversial French film titled Cuties.
Cuties, which is described as a coming-of-age comedy/drama drew widespread scrutiny due to a marketing campaign from Netflix that allegedly sexualized child actresses. Prior to its release on Netflix, it had not met with such controversy, and in its French iteration (as Mignonnes) won awards at the annual Sundance Film Festival.
It focuses on an 11-year-old Senegalese girl who becomes 3enamored with the behavior of a neighbor girl who dances with an adult-style dance group. Critics noted the contrasting values of religious fundamentalism versus provocative modern cultural trappings.
After its Netflix release, lawmakers such as Senator Ted Cruz and State Rep. James White (R-Hillister) weighed in on the film, and many Americans boycotted the film, and the hashtag “#CancelNetflix” popped up in response.
The suit was filed last Thursday in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Texas in Lufkin, and is filed as Netflix Inc. v. Babin, 9:22-31.
The suit accuses Babin of filing “baseless charges” against the company and asks the judge overseeing the court to stop Babin from prosecuting the company on four child pornography charges, after Babin dropped the previous charge from 2020.
The suit also refers to Babin’s indictments against the streaming provider as “singular and bad-faith,” and claims the company is exercising its free speech and petition rights under the First Amendment “on trumped-up charges.”
A hearing for Netflix’s request for a temporary restraining order and injunction against Babin and the charges was set for Friday in the Beaumont branch of the federal Eastern District.
At the time of the initial indictment, Babin said that in his role as DA, he sees many cases with underage victims. He said that he’d heard about the film and watched it. After viewing it, he said he knew there was probable cause to believe it was liable to criminal prosecution.
Babin, who worked in the entertainment industry as an actor and model, prior to his career in law, said that the film contains “no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Within the suit, Netflix claims that Babin is “well-aware [the film] violates no laws” and “contains nothing obscene…no ‘lewd depictions of minors’.”
The brunt of the controversy, according to some critics, arises not from the film itself, but how it was marketed via Netflix. According to Hannah Blum, a writer for the Stanford Daily, a poster for the film and the trailer, which featured images of the dance troupe, was from where the concern rose.
In the initial indictments, Netflix co-CEOs Wilmot Reed Hastings, Jr. and Theodore Anthony Sarandos, Jr. are named as “high managerial agent[s].” A statement from a Netflix spokesperson last week called the film “a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” and called Babin’s four new charges as being “without merit,” and coming “just as Netflix was trying to get the matter tossed out of state court.”
The Dallas-based firm of Carter Arnett PLLC and the San Antonio-based Prichard Young, LLP are representing Netflix.