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Netflix asks viewers to watch controversial 'Cuties,' Sen. Ted Cruz seeks criminal investigation

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 9/13/2020 Sara M Moniuszko, USA TODAY

Netflix is encouraging subscribers to watch the award-winning French film "Cuties," despite a petition to remove the film and the trending hashtag #CancelNetflix.  

The backlash began when the film's artwork debuted in late August and drew criticism on social media for showing the film's cast of children in midriff-baring uniforms and short shorts striking various dance poses. Netflix issued an apology for the "inappropriate" artwork promoting the film, which follows 11-year-old Amy's struggle to find her identity amid contrasting cultures.

A day after the film debuted on the streaming service, the hashtags #CancelNetflix and #BoycottNetflix were trending on social media.

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Netflix responded to the criticism in a statement provided to USA TODAY on Friday: "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 – and we'd encourage anyone who cares about these important issues to watch the movie."

But by Sunday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., had doubled down on his criticism of the movie

" 'Cuties' sexualizes 11-year-old girls, and it’s disgusting and wrong. That’s why I’ve asked AG Barr to investigate whether Netflix, its executives, or the filmmakers violated any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography," Cruz tweeted Sunday, along with video of his remarks about the film on Fox News.

On Friday, Cruz sent a letter requesting that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate whether Netflix, its filmmakers or executives have violated federal law against the production and distribution of child pornography. 

Earlier, U.S. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., questioned in a letter to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings why the platform is airing a film "depicting children being coached to engaged in simulated sexual acts." 

"Cuties" appears to "sexually exploit children and endanger child welfare," he said. 

Hawley called on Hastings to answer several questions on Netflix's handling of the French film, including the "sexually suggestive" movie poster, the lack of "sexual graphic content" warning, the film's "primary viewership" and whether or not Netflix "consulted with experts or authorities" beforehand. 

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., has also spoken out against Netflix on Twitter.

"Last year, @netflix lectured conservative states for passing pro-life laws to protect unborn children. Now, @netflix peddles child pornography. At least @netflix is consistent," he wrote on Twitter Saturday morning.

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation also condemned Netflix for giving a film "that has permitted the sexual exploitation of children" a platform. 

"While we commend Director Maïmouna Doucouré for exposing the very real threats to young girls having unfettered access to social media and the internet, we cannot condone the hypersexualization and exploitation of the young actresses themselves in order to make her point," the nonprofit said in a statement Friday. 

The center said Netflix is engaging in "corporate malfeasance" and asked the platform to cut "sexually-exploitative scenes" from the film or drop it entirely. 

"The audience does not need to see the very long scenes with close-up shots of the girls’ bodies; this does nothing to educate the audience on the harms of sexualization," the statement adds. 

The statement comes as a "Cancel Netflix subscription" petition on Change.org amassed more than 600,000 signatures as of Friday morning. 

"From Cuties to Big Mouth to other movies mocking religions and exploiting children Netflix is no longer the family friendly streaming service I (once) believed it to be!" the petition's descriptions reads, in part.

The Parents Television Council stood behind its earlier objections after seeing the film, with program director Melissa Henson saying the film "normalizes the sexualization of little girls" and desensitizes "millions of viewers at home by asking them to be entertained by it."

In the film, from French-Senegalese filmmaker Maïmouna Doucouré, Amy (played by Fathia Youssouf) moves to a housing project in Paris and is raised by a conservative mother who is quietly suffering. Amy is simultaneously exposed to the internet’s sexy dance videos, Instagram selfies, and cool girls who appear carefree and confident.

Actress Tessa Thompson, who saw the movie at Sundance Film Festival, called it "beautiful" and with a "fresh voice at the helm."

"The film comments on the hyper-sexualization of preadolescent girls," the actress added. "Disappointed to see the current discourse."

"Hair Love" writer/director Matthew A. Cherry tweeted that the problematic promotional art shows why directors should be involved with the way their films are marketed: "It makes no sense that directors aren’t even consulted in marketing materials for their own movies." 

Contributing: Carly Mallenbaum, Cydney Henderson, Morgan Hines and Kim Willis

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Netflix asks viewers to watch controversial 'Cuties,' Sen. Ted Cruz seeks criminal investigation

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