WOODVILLE, Texas (CN) — Netflix’s co-chief executive officer defended the streaming of controversial French film “Cuties” on its service Monday, three weeks after the company was indicted by an East Texas grand jury for allegedly promoting lewd visual material of minors.
Ted Sarandos made the comments at the Mipcom television industry trade show in Cannes, France, after accepting Variety magazine’s Vanguard Award. The four-day event is held virtually this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
During the question and answer session, Sarandos expressed surprise at the controversy over the film. Originally titled “Mignonnes” in France, “Cuties” tells the autobiographical story of director Maimouna Doucoure as a pre-pubescent Senegalese-French girl who hangs out with her same-aged dance group friends while living with her conservative Muslim family.
“It is a very personal coming of age film, it’s the director’s story and the film has obviously played very well at Sundance without any of this controversy and played in theaters throughout Europe without any of this controversy,” he said.
Sarandos said Netflix will not make any changes to the film and expressed free speech concerns with the backlash against the film.
“It is a film that is very misunderstood with some audiences, uniquely within the United States. The film speaks for itself,” Sarandos said. “It’s a little surprising that in 2020 America we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling.”
Texas state Representative Matt Schaefer, a Republican, announced on Oct. 6 the indictment in Taylor County accusing Netflix of promoting “visual material which depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child” younger than 18 years of age. Filed on Sept. 23, the one-page indictment claims the film “appeals to the prurient interest in sex, and has no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
The filing specifically called out Sarandos and co-CEO Reed Hastings for authorizing or “recklessly” tolerating the service’s promotion of the film.
Netflix was served with the lawsuit on Oct. 1, according to Schaefer.
Sarandos was not asked Monday about Netflix’s Aug. 20 apology after backlash against the streaming service’s more-provocative American marketing artwork for the film compared to marketing materials for France.
When the indictment was announced, Tyler County District Attorney Lucas Babin pointed out the growing backlash against the film.
“The legislators of this state believe promoting certain lewd material of children has destructive consequences,” he said in a statement at the time. “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.”
Babin’s father is U.S. Representative Brian Babin, R-Woodville, who signed a Sept. 17 letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr that described “Cuties” as containing child pornography. Thirty-four lawmakers signed the letter, asking Barr to prosecute Netflix for depicting child pornography instead of criticizing it as the film’s defenders claim.
“According to IMDB’s parental guide, Cuties contains, ‘a scene where an 11-year-old girl dressed in a tank and panties is splashed with water and begins twerking in a frenzied kind of way,’ and numerous other, equally distressing depictions of minors including a display of an 11-year-old child’s bare breast,” the letter stated. “One reviewer recently said, ‘What the Avengers movies are to comic-book geeks, Cuties is to pedophiles.’”