Can a movie be indicted? If so, can it happen in a country other than the movie where it was produced? And if so, isn’t that “cancel culture,” in a way that, say, negative tweets about a comedy special aren’t?
That happened this week, when Netflix was indicted in Texas, as a result of its transmitting of the controversial French film Cuties. That film, which won an award at Sundance before arriving on Netflix last month, tells the story of a Muslim immigrant girl in France who falls in with a “twerking” dance crew. The controversy led to various death threats directed at critics, and even an odd amount of anti-Semitism.
The indictment was handed down on September 23 by a grand jury in Tyler County, Texas, although it wasn’t publicized until October 6, when Texas legislator Matt Schaefer tweeted the indictment. The summons for the charge, a felony, was served to Netflix by the Texas Rangers on October 1.
The indictment accuses Netflix of violating Texas statutes, 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.”
The film does not, in fact, contain any underaged nudity.
Netflix, following the indictment, has continued to defend the film, and has not pulled it.
“Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film,” the company said in a statement.
“There is no plausible argument that the Netflix series is outside First Amendment protection. You’d have to overturn a couple of generations of law to do it,” lawyer and podcaster Ken “Popehat” White tweeted Tuesday. “But the people pursuing it don’t care. They don’t care about the First Amemdment, despite constantly citing it.”
“I think Netflix should easily beat this indictment because Texas law expressly excludes material that has ‘serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value,'” Volokh wrote.
Babin, the prosecutor, oddly enough, has his own showbiz past. He had an acting career, which included playing Spider in the movie School of Rock, and also spent years as a model. He also starred on a Brazilian telenovela, becoming the first American to do so, and once starred in a video with Paris Hilton.