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“Cuties”: Netflix Wins an Appeal to Stop Child Pornography Charges!


In a landmark decision, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a 3-0 ruling in favor of Netflix, effectively blocking a Texas district attorney’s attempt to pursue child pornography charges against the streaming giant for showcasing the French film “Cuties.” This ruling upheld an earlier injunction by a lower court, placing an indefinite halt on the prosecution initiated by Lucas Babin, the elected District Attorney in Tyler County, Texas.

“Cuties,” released in September 2020, immediately ignited controversy for its portrayal of a teenage dance troupe. Critics and defenders of the film clashed over its depiction, with some accusing it of s*xualizing young girls. Babin’s indictment of Netflix for “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child” escalated the debate into a legal battle, raising critical questions about artistic expression, censorship, and the protection of children.

The contentious nature of “Cuties” lies in its depiction of underage actors performing provocative dance routines while clothed, juxtaposed against the brief exposure of an adult woman’s bare breasts. However, it’s crucial to note that the film does not contain any s*x scenes.

The director, Maïmouna Doucouré, explained that she intended to highlight the troubling sexualization of young girls, especially in the context of social media. Netflix, in response to the charges, brought the case to federal court, asserting that the prosecution was in bad faith and lacked a viable path to conviction.

A federal judge, in November 2022, granted Netflix’s request for an injunction, stating skepticism about the film containing child pornography. Judge Don R. Willett, writing for the 5th Circuit, underscored the significance of the First Amendment in the ruling, stating, “Netflix has shown at this stage that it has been subjected to a bad-faith prosecution, an injury we have already deemed ‘irreparable.”

He emphasized that Netflix’s interest in exercising its First Amendment rights outweighed any purported interest of the state in a prosecution perceived as being in bad faith. The decision has been closely watched by First Amendment organizations and media entities.

A coalition, including the Motion Picture Association, Penguin Random House, the News/Media Alliance, and the Texas Tribune, filed an amicus brief supporting Netflix. They argued that the prosecution of “Cuties” could potentially suppress free expression on sensitive issues such as child s*x trafficking and rape.

"Cuties": Netflix Wins an Appeal to Stop Child Pornography Charges!

The case of “Cuties” sheds light on the delicate balance between protecting children and preserving artistic freedom. It underscores the challenges faced by content creators and distributors in addressing complex social issues within the bounds of law and public sensibility. As the debate continues, the “Cuties” saga remains a pivotal case in the ongoing discourse on censorship, artistic expression, and the rights of digital content platforms.

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