The grand jury in Tyler County, Texas, returned the indictment on Sept. 23 under a state law that forbids “the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of an unclothed, partially clothed, or clothed child.”
To be illegal, such material must appeal “to the prurient interest in sex” and have “no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”
Netflix defended the film in a statement: “‘Cuties’ is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”
No arraignment date has been set.
The Tyler County district attorney is Lucas Babin, a onetime model and actor who appeared as Spider, the shirtless musician in the 2003 film “School of Rock.” He also played Rocky on “The Young and the Restless,” according to his IMDb profile.
In a statement on his office’s Facebook page, Babin said that after watching the film, he “knew there was probable cause to believe it was criminal.”
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“The legislators of this state believe promoting certain lewd material of children has destructive consequences,” Babin said in the statement. “If such material is distributed on a grand scale, isn’t the need to prosecute more, not less?”
Babin’s office declined to make him available for an interview.
“Cuties” tells the story of an 11-year-old Senegalese girl who joins a dance troupe in Paris. The movie debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, and generated controversy when it was released early last month on Netflix.
The pic includes dance routines with suggestive choreography. The distributor has defended the film as a commentary on the hyper-sexualization of children.
“It’s scandalous to accuse us of promoting child pornography,” Bac Films CEO David Grumbach told Variety last month. “I think the protests are coming from the right wing — from a fringe of ultra conservatism.”
Babin’s father is Brian Babin, a Republican congressman. On Sept. 17, Rep. Babin joined 33 other Republican members in signing a letter to U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, urging him to prosecute Netflix under the federal child pornography statute.
“The First Amendment protects corporations and individuals from obscenity law if they can prove artistic expression, but this protection rightfully does not apply to child pornography,” the Congress members wrote. “‘Cuties’ is child pornography and its distributors should be prosecuted accordingly.”
The members of Congress, led by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, also argued that the filmmakers’ intentions were beside the point, because the film had provided “visual fodder for pedophiles.”
In March, Lucas Babin’s office charged a resident with making a “false alarm” for claiming on Facebook to have tested positive for COVID-19.