In the wake of the firestorm of controversy—and even a Texas grand jury indictment—over the French-language film Cuties, Netflix co-CEO Ted Sarandos defended the movie Monday, saying the film is “very misunderstood with some audiences, uniquely within the United States,” Deadline reported.
According to Deadline, Sarandos was speaking at a virtual iteration of the annual MIPCOM, a media and entertainment trade show traditionally held in Cannes, France, when he was asked about the film.
“It’s a little surprising in 2020 America that we’re having a discussion about censoring storytelling,” Deadline quoted Sarandos as saying.
He called Cuties “misunderstood,” and pointed out that the move did not stir up the same controversy when it premiered at Sundance earlier this year or when it was shown in cinemas in European countries.
Cuties, the English title and translation of the original name of the movie, Mignonnes, follows 11-year-old Amy, a French-Senegalese girl living in Paris who struggles to navigate her role on a twerking dance crew and her more traditional upbringing.
The film attracted controversy both before and after its release, first for “inappropriate” marketing material depicting the young stars posing suggestively in revealing dance outfits that Netflix later retracted and apologized for, as well as the content of the film, which features young girls dancing on a twerk team and emulating adult behavior, like posting explicit photos on social media.
“It’s a film that is very misunderstood with some audiences, uniquely within the United States. The film speaks for itself. 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,” Sarandos said, according to Deadline.
Controversy has surrounded the film before it was even released on Netflix. In August, Netflix apologized for the material it used to promote the coming release after critics said it showed children in provocative outfits and poses, saying “it was not OK, nor was it representative of this French film which won an award at Sundance.” The following month, a day after Cuties premiered, the hashtag #CancelNetflix was Twitter’s most popular trending topic as users slammed the movie as sexualizing underage children. Both Netflix and director Maïmouna Doucouré defended the film and insisted it carries a message against the sexualization of young girls, with Netflix saying in a statement that Cuties is “a powerful story about the pressure young girls face on social media and from society.” Not everyone agreed—Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex) last month called for the Justice Department to look into false allegations that the movie may violate child porn laws. Last week, a grand jury in Tyler County, Texas, indicted Netflix for “promotion of lewd visual material depicting a child,” according to a statement from the district attorney’s office. Netflix saw a surge in cancelled subscriptions as a result of the controversy in September, according to analytics firm Antenna.