Netflix is facing criminal proceedings in Texas over the allegedly “lewd” depiction of girls in a controversial French film on the platform.
Netflix has faced criticism for the film and a poster showing pre-teen girls dancing in skimpy outfits.
Now the streaming service has been indicted by a grand jury in east Texas for promoting work depicting the “lewd exhibition” of children under 18.
Netflix said: “This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”
The indictment, handed down last month in Tyler County, could see Netflix receive a fine of up to $20,000 (£15,480).
Netflix has said it is backing the film, which it described as “a social commentary against the sexualisation of young children”.
Cuties, called Mignonnes in France, follows an 11-year-old from Senegal who joins a dance group. It was picked up by Netflix after its premiere at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.
Its writer-director, Franco-Senegalese film-maker Maïmouna Doucouré, received a world cinema dramatic directing award at the event.
She has described her work as “a deeply feminist film with an activist message” that aims to show how social media pushes girls to mimic sexualised imagery.
She said she chose to explore the topic after being shocked at seeing a group of girls aged around 11 dancing in a sensual way in revealing clothes.
The film became embroiled in controversy in August when Netflix used a provocative poster image to promote its September release.
Netflix later withdrew and apologised for the image, saying it was “inappropriate” and not representative of the film’s content.
Doucouré later revealed she had received death threats after the furore over the poster, and that Netflix chief executive Ted Sarandos had called her personally to apologise.
On Tuesday, Tyler County district attorney Lucas Babin said the county had decided to indict Netflix for the promotion of the film in his county.
According to the court filing, Netflix knowingly promoted work that “depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child who was younger than 18 years of age at the time the visual material was created, which appeals to the prurient interest in sex”.
Mr Babin is the son of US congressman Brian Babin, who last month co-signed a letter alleging that Cuties “clearly meets the US legal definition of child pornography”.
“It’s disturbing to see a mainstream media company promoting the sexualisation of children,” the Republican politician wrote. “It shouldn’t be allowed.”
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