Texas Sen. Ted Cruz called on the Justice Department to investigate Netflix and the "Cuties" filmmakers to determine whether they broke any federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography.
The Republican senator and a growing list of federal lawmakers are appalled that Netflix is streaming the controversial film -- claiming the comedy-drama sexualizes young children and appeals to pedophiles.
“The film routinely fetishizes and sexualizes these pre-adolescent girls as they perform dances simulating sexual conduct in revealing clothing, including at least one scene with partial child nudity," Cruz wrote in a letter to Attorney General William Barr Friday.
Cruz continued: "These scenes in and of themselves are harmful. And it is likely that the filming of this movie created even more explicit and abusive scenes, and that pedophiles across the world in the future will manipulate and imitate this film in abusive ways."
The film, centered on an 11-year-old Senegalese immigrant living in Paris, is the debut work of French director Maïmouna Doucouré. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah last year and earned Doucouré a best directing award.
In the film, the main character, Amy, ends up joining a clique of girls who call themselves the “Cuties” – and perform highly provocative and eroticized dance numbers while scantily clad – as a way of rebelling against her conservative Muslim parents.
The Justice Department Saturday did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News about a potential criminal investigation into the film. Netflix did not directly address the potential DOJ probe but said there is "no underage nudity in the film."
Netflix defended the "Cuties" as actually speaking against the over-sexualization of children in society and has urged critics to watch the movie to understand its perspective.
“''Cuties' is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a spokesperson told Fox News. “It’s 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.”
Netflix’s decision to show the film has also sparked an online protest petition and a trending Twitter hashtag to #CancelNetflix.
Gabbard called the film "child porn" that will “whet the appetite of pedophiles & help fuel the child sex trafficking trade.”
Doucouré said she drew upon her experiences as a young girl caught between two cultures: her Senegalese parents and French-Western society.
She said in a Netflix promo video that "Cuties" originated when she saw a group of very young dancers performing on a Paris stage one day, dancing like they were women. She spent the next year researching these 11-year-olds and found how the over-sexualization of women on social media has trickled down to impressionable pre-teens.
"The children just imitate what they see, trying to achieve the same result, without understanding the meaning and, yeah, it's dangerous," she said.
Cruz said the film goes beyond artistic expression. He said the Justice Department has a significant role in preventing the sexual abuse of children and enforcing federal criminal law that prohibits the production or distribution of material involving the sexual exploitation of minors, including the filming of minors engaging in sexually explicit conduct.
He points to "dance scenes that simulate sexual activities and a scene exposing a minor’s bare breast."
“Although the First Amendment provides vigorous protection for artistic expression," Cruz wrote, "it does not allow individuals or for-profit corporations to produce or distribute child pornography."
Fox News' Brie Stimson contributed to this report