People can disagree about all manner of issues – and in America, we certainly do. One thing that shouldn’t be up for debate is that young children ought to be protected from sexual abuse and exploitation.
Hollywood has long failed this fundamental moral test, as evidenced by the many child stars who were abused by their supposed caretakers, both on and off the set.
The Netflix movie “Cuties” is the latest example of child sexual exploitation in the film industry.
In fact, it is child pornography hiding in plain sight.
“Cuties” follows a group of 11-year-old girls in France who form a dance group. The girls mimic and adopt highly sexualized behavior they see in popular culture, from Internet pornography to (hardly less explicit) music videos. The movie’s child actresses were made to wear, do and say disgusting things in service of this plot.
The director of “Cuties,” Netflix and a disturbing number of film critics have defended the film since its promotional materials first prompted outrage. They claim the film is a “social commentary against the sexualization of young children.” The film isn’t contributing to the sexualization of children, these critics insist, it’s critiquing it.
Netflix has a basic legal responsibility to not stream child pornography or otherwise promote the sexual exploitation of children.
But of course, no matter how interesting the movie’s “social commentary” is to critics at the Sundance film festival, that doesn’t excuse the fact that the movie depicts real-life children performing extended, pornographic dance routines. I choose that word carefully, because ultimately what ”Cuties” depicts is child pornography.
Federal law defines child pornography to include the “lascivious exhibition” of a child’s private parts. There is no nudity requirement under the statute. Certain images in this film technically satisfy the federal definition of child pornography. Its distribution by Netflix likely constitutes a serious crime.
Tragically, ”Cuties” is not the first film Netflix has streamed featuring child pornography.
In 2018, it was criticized for streaming a foreign film that featured a 9-year-old girl simulating a sex act – a simulated sex act that is squarely covered by the child pornography statute. The company has also come under fire for its series "Big Mouth," which includes cartoon depictions of children's genitals.
Some will defend these gross depictions as “art” or constitutionally protected speech, but directors do not have carte blanche to break the law just because they call themselves “artists.” And the Constitution does not protect the sexual exploitation of children; to the contrary, our laws are meant to protect children from exploitation.
Netflix has a basic legal responsibility to not stream child pornography or otherwise promote the sexual exploitation of children. Even if one were to argue these images don’t quite meet the threshold or barely meet the threshold of constituting child pornography, the fact we must even engage in this argument surely implies the images are, at best, indecent.
Equally important is Netflix’s moral duty to ensure that it does not disseminate obscene and lewd material featuring children, whether legal or not.
This duty falls with equal weight on the many elites and celebrities who work with Netflix and are getting rich off its streaming empire.
No less prominent a couple than former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle Obama, stand to make $65 million from a Netflix deal to film their life stories, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex signed a deal some estimate to be $150 million to create “family programming.”
These leaders have the influence and indeed obligation to put pressure on Netflix to remove lewd and disgusting material like ”Cuties.” They are otherwise complicit.
At the same time, the Department of Justice ought to investigate this film to determine whether it can bring charges against Netflix for distributing child pornography.
The film and entertainment industries have exploited children for decades with few consequences. It’s little surprise, then, that so many in the industry responded with defensiveness and shock to the outrage over “Cuties” – but it’s no excuse.
We all have a duty to protect the children under our care. When adults fail in that duty, young lives are harmed, predators are emboldened, and society itself is coarsened as a consequence.
No “art” or “social commentary” can justify such a moral outrage.