Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, wants Netflix to explain how showing the movie “Cuties” — which won an award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival — does not constitute criminal exploitation of minors.
He also called Friday for Netflix to stop airing the film about a young Senegalese girl in Paris who joins a “free-spirited dance clique” to escape family dysfunction. And he warns that he is considering referring the online streaming company to the U.S. attorney general’s office for investigation.
Conservative groups are urging Netflix users to cancel their subscriptions because of the film. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., also called for Netflix to take down the film.
“Many have raised concerns — which I share — regarding the film’s depiction of the exploitation of young girls' bodies,” Lee wrote to Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. Lee complained specifically about “scenes depicting scantily clad children dancing in a sexually suggestive manner.”
He added, “The film’s sexualization of young girls — if not itself the sexual exploitation of the child actors — will certainly contribute to child sexual exploitation by others. At a minimum, it is certainly inappropriate and morally wrong to sexualize minors, regardless of whether the depiction is fictional.”
On Friday, Netflix issued a statement to the entertainment magazine Variety, saying that “'Cuties' is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” and is “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.”
“Cuties,” or “Mignonnes” in French, premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where writer-director Maïmouna Doucouré won the world cinema dramatic directing award.
The description of the film by Sundance says it focuses tightly on rowdy protagonists, “crafting a spirited film that nimbly depicts the tweens' youthful energy and vulnerabilities while exploring their fumbling eagerness to be identified as sexualized.”
“While I have concerns with the movie’s young actresses' influence on other young girls, my larger concern is with the possibility that the inappropriate scenes might encourage the sexual exploitation of young girls by adults,” Lee wrote to Netflix.
After saying the nation spends hundreds of millions of dollars to combat child trafficking, sexual exploitation and child pornography, Lee wrote, “In the interest of protecting children in both the United States and internationally from this horrible abuse, I call on Netflix to cease distributing this movie.”
He also warned, “My staff is reviewing the film and the pertinent law to determine whether to refer the presentation of this film to the United States Attorney General for investigation.”
Lee asked Netflix to explain whether “the potential exploitation of minors in this film constitutes criminal behavior” by the end of next week.
Variety reported that the hashtag “#CancelNetflix” was the No. 1 trending topic on Twitter in the nation Thursday, after “Cuties” premiered Sept. 9 on Netflix. As of Friday afternoon, more than 600,000 people had signed a petition on Change.org urging subscription cancellations because of the movie.
The conservative advocacy group Parents Television Council also said in a statement Thursday that after reviewing the film, it “stands by its earlier criticism that the TV-MA-rated film sexualizes children.”
The group said the young female actors were trained in highly sexualized dance routines; were given lines with “foul, vulgar language” including f—; and were made to wear revealing clothing. In addition, in one scene, the protagonist is shown pulling down her underwear to photograph herself to post online, after she tries to seduce a man (who is a family member) to get out of trouble for stealing his cellphone.
Mary Margaret Olohan, a reporter for the conservative publication the Daily Caller, early Thursday tweeted a video clip of the girls in the film dancing suggestively and twerking, commenting, “Netflix is comfortable with this. Plenty of people will defend it. This is where our culture is at.” She added, “I understand this video is upsetting and depicts little girls in a gruesome light. I tweeted it for those who will say that ‘Cuties’ is innocent.”
Lee also has criticized many online and social media and news organizations in recent months. That includes recently calling for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to sell KSL.com because it is too liberal; criticizing what he calls an “increasingly leftist” The Associated Press; and attacking Google, Facebook and Twitter for what he says is a bias against conservatives as it moderates or ranks content.
Also this week, President Donald Trump retained Lee and his brother, Utah Supreme Court Associate Justice Thomas Lee, on a short list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees if he is reelected and vacancies occur.
Correction: "Cuties" had it U.S. premeire at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. An incorrect year was initially listed.