Updated Sep 14, 2020 - Economy

Republicans target Netflix over "Cuties"

Sen. Ted Cruz. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Republican politicians are propelling a growing boycott of Netflix in response to the streamer debuting a French film called "Cuties," which denounces society's hyper-sexualization of young girls on social media.

Driving the news: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz on Friday asked the Justice Department to investigate whether the filmmakers "violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography," despite the fact that the film does not showcase any nudity of underage children.

  • "[I]t is likely that the filming of this movie created even more explicit and abusive scenes, and that pedophiles across the world in the future will manipulate and imitate this film in abusive ways," he wrote.
  • In an interview with Fox News on Sunday, Cruz said, "Barack Obama makes a ton of money from Netflix and they are profiting, they are making money by selling the sexual exploitation of young kids."

Netflix has dismissed calls for a boycott. To Cruz's point, the film does appear to be sexually suggestive in its marketing materials, which show young girls scantily clad in dancing outfits and flirting with older boys. But the film, as Netflix notes, is meant to be social commentary against the sexualization of young children.

  • Netflix redesigned the movie's original poster from its February debut at Sundance to show the main characters — 11-year-old girls — in revealing dance poses, transforming the film's first impression for many American viewers. A side-by-side comparison in The Verge shows the girls fully dressed in the first version.
  • Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos personally apologized to Doucouré for the poster, per Variety.
  • The company's stock was down Monday, after falling sharply the previous week after the film debuted.

What they're saying: Calls to boycott Netflix have grown louder in recent days. A boycott petition to cancel Netflix subscriptions on change.org has garnered over 647,000 signatures in recent days.

  • Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) tweeted that "Cuties" "appears to sexually exploit children and endanger child welfare," and said in a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings — demanding answers to a variety of questions by the end of this week — that the film "raises major questions of child safety."
  • Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) called for "swift action" from the Justice Department.

“We need to protect our children. What I want to is to open people’s eyes on this issue and try to fix it,” filmmaker Maimouna Doucouré told Variety.

  • "Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. 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," a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement.

Between the lines: The issue of child trafficking has gained increased attention following the rise of the Pizzagate theory which emerged in 2016, the Jeffrey Epstein saga, viral suggestions that Wayfair was trafficking children this year and the growing QAnon conspiracy theory.

  • "Cuties" has given advocates new fodder— both those who are genuinely fighting the issue of child trafficking and those spreading conspiracy theories about elite sex cults.

Editor's note: This story was updated after publishing to remove references to linkage between the conservative criticism of "Cuties" and the QAnon conspiracy theory.

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