UPDATED at 1:30PM PT: Sen Ted Cruz and Fox News host Laura Ingraham added their voices to the outcry over Cuties, a French indie film that either encourages or critiques the sexualization of pre-pubescent girls, depending on your vantage point.
Cruz is asking the Department of Justice to investigate Netflix over its streaming of the film, which won a prize at Sundance, has been praised by most critics and ardently defended by Netflix. Released theatrically in France and other territories, it arrived last week in the U.S.
“I urge the Department of Justice to investigate the production and distribution of this film,” Cruz wrote in a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, “to determine whether Netflix, its executives, or the individuals involved in the filming and production of ‘Cuties’ violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.”
Ingraham urged her 3.7 million Twitter followers to cancel Netflix, calling the film “sexual exploitation of girls.”
While most of the critics of the film are Republican, Democratic Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard blasted Netflix. Gabbard possibly scorched the most earth with her late-Friday tweet, which garnered 163,000 likes and reinforced the trending hashtag “#CancelNetflix.”
“@netflix 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.”
PREVIOUSLY: Cuties continues to keep Netflix in the spotlight, for reasons other than what was envisioned when the company acquired the French film at Sundance in 2019.
Directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, the film (titled Mignonnes in French) takes aim at society’s sexualization of girls, through an ensemble of 11-year-old girls. But some advocacy groups and politicians have decried its poster art (and even its very existence) as exploitative and perpetuating the very degradation that it intends to critique.
Last month, Netflix apologized for the poster promoting the film’s September 9 debut in the U.S. (In France, it opened theatrically this week.) The streaming giant reverted to the French artwork, which showed frolicking, fully clothed girls instead of the much more revealing U.S. dance pose. In an interview with Deadline, Doucouré said Co-CEO Ted Sarandos even called her to make amends.
The Parents Television Council, a frequent critic of many pop culture creations, has weighed in against it, and U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley joined the fray.
The backlash against the film has also gotten it tangled up in the #SaveTheChildren crowd on social media. Followers of the hashtag believe in many of the same conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon, including the belief in widespread sexual abuse and trafficking of minors orchestrated by government officials.
Netflix has responded to the controversy by backing the film, which is accompanied on the platform by a short featuring Doucouré explaining her motivation to make the film, which earned her a world cinema directing award at Sundance.
“‘Cuties’ is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement. “It’s an award-winning film and a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society more generally growing up — and we’d encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie.”
Hawley sent a letter to Netflix Co-CEO Reed Hastings asking him to remove Cuties from the streaming service. (It was a busy week for the Missouri Republican, who also called on Disney to take Mulan off Disney+ over its filming of some brief scenes in China.) That amplified recent calls to “cancel” Netflix, with a blitz of posts by Breitbart and other conservative outlets as social media regulars.
“In early 2019, journalists first began to report that YouTube videos of children in partial states of exposure were being ‘inundated with comments’ by pedophiles, exposing the children involved in the videos and other children visiting the platform to potential harm,” Hawley wrote to Hastings. “Now Netflix is airing a film called Cuties depicting children being coached to engage in simulated sexual acts, for cameras both onscreen and off. Your decision to do so raises major questions of child safety and exploitation, including the possibility of copycat behavior and exploitation of child actors.”