Netflix CEO Defends 'Misunderstood' Cuties After Movie Indictment: 'The Film Speaks for Itself'

"It's a little surprising that in 2020 America we're having a discussion about censoring storytelling," said Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos

Netflix Cuties
Cuties (2020). Photo: Netflix

Netflix's co-CEO is backing up the streaming service's Cuties after the company was indicted in Texas for the "promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child."

During a panel at the Mipcom annual convention held virtually on Monday, Ted Sarandos said the movie, which was criticized for what some saw as sexualizing young girls, is "misunderstood."

"The film speaks for itself," said Sarandos, according to Variety. "It’s a very personal coming-of-age film, it’s the director’s story and the film has obviously played very well at Sundance without any of this controversy and played in theaters throughout Europe without any of this controversy."

"It’s a little surprising that in 2020 America we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling," he added.

Late last month, Netflix was indicted in Tyler County, Texas. According to the press release, the District Attorney's Office claims that Netflix, by distributing Cuties, "knowingly promote[d] visual material that depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of a clothed or partially clothed child, which appeals to the prurient interest in sex and has no serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value."

A spokesperson for Netflix told PEOPLE in a statement at the time: “Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children. This charge is without merit and we stand by the film.”

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Cuties, which is rated TV-MA on the streaming platform, follows Amy (Fathia Youssouf), an 11-year-old girl from Senegal who joins a dance team dubbed "the Cuties" at her school and gradually rebels from her traditional, conservative family.

While the coming-of-age film, directed by Maïmouna Doucouré and originally titled Mignonnes, has been criticized, it's been praised by many — including film critics – for its handling of sensitive topics. It was also well received at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the world cinema dramatic directing award.

After the hashtag #CancelNetflix began trending on social media last month because of the backlash aimed at the film, Netflix defended Cuties as "social commentary."

Cuties is a social commentary against the sexualization of young children,” a Netflix spokesperson told PEOPLE in a statement at the time. “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.”

Back in August, Netflix issued a public apology following backlash over the marketing poster created for Cuties, with critics claiming that it sexualized children. The controversial poster featured four young girls from the film dressed in revealing dance outfits while striking suggestive dance poses.

"We're deeply sorry for the inappropriate artwork that we used for Mignonnes/Cuties. It was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance," Netflix tweeted on Aug. 20. "We’ve now updated the pictures and description."

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