Ever since Netflix made the fateful (and awful) decision to subject the world to the French film Cuties, outrage and condemnation have rained down upon them. But we’ve now learned that at least some government officials weren’t satisfied with simply scolding them for promoting child exploitation. A grand jury in Texas moved to indict the streaming giant several weeks ago. The list of charges look appropriate enough at first glance, but any prosecutor attempting to move the case forward may have their work cut out for them. (Fox News)
Netflix has been indicted on a criminal charge that alleges the streaming giant promotes “lewd visual material” of a child.
The lawsuit centers on the release of the French film “Cuties” that has been mired by controversy since its release last month.
A Tyler County, Texas grand jury moved to return an indictment against Netflix on Sept. 23, Fox News confirmed on Tuesday via court documents.
A couple of weeks ago, I looked at the defense offered by the film’s director and why her excuses really don’t hold up under scrutiny. I still haven’t watched the film and have no intention of doing so, though I can at least sympathize with what the director claims she was trying to accomplish. Of course, if she’s handled the project in a responsible fashion she almost certainly wouldn’t have attracted this much international attention.
With that said, however, this may be a tough case to prosecute for a couple of different reasons. Netflix is being charged with a felony based on the following premise. “Netflix “’knowingly’ promoted visual material which depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 years of age at the time the visual material was created, which appeals to the prurient interest in sex, and has no serious, literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
I can agree with that assessment in principle, but how would that stack up in court? Government censorship of purported “entertainment” is always a dodgy affair when it comes to the courts. Leaving it up to a jury to decide what does or doesn’t have serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value means that a small group of people is defining those terms for everyone. And while this film certainly appears to be garbage, such a ruling could wind up taking down any number of other productions that you might not view as being offensive.
Also, based on the reviews written by people who actually did sit through the film, the children remained clothed during the dancing routines, albeit highly inappropriately so. If there’s no nudity or physical, sexual interaction taking place, does it truly qualify as child pornography? There has to be some sort of dividing line between what’s lewd and inappropriate and material that truly qualifies as underage pornography, right?
Even if you agree that Cuties crosses that line, there are also questions of the appropriate venue for legal action. This charge is being filed in Texas, but Netflix is based in Los Gatos, California. And Netflix is just acting as a distributor for the film. The director lives in France. Isn’t the director more responsible than Netflix? And if these charges are to be filed, wouldn’t they need to be handled either in California or in a federal court?
For their part, Netflix is sticking to its guns. The company released a statement saying that the charges are without merit and “we stand by the film.” If this case does actually make in front of a judge and jury at some point, it will be an interesting one to watch for anyone interested in censorship and related subjects.