Netflix has been indicted in the conservative southern US state of Texas for screening the French film "Cuties," which has been accused of hypersexualizing young girls and depicting children in a lewd manner.
Statements by Republican lawmakers and an online campaign against the film have tapped into concern over child sexual molestation, making the movie political leverage in the battle to re-elect Republican President Donald Trump.
The streaming service became the subject of a grand jury hearing in Tyler County, east of Houston, in the middle of September, and a local elected official revealed Tuesday that the same jury issued an indictment.
"Cuties," directed by French-Senegalese director Maimouna Doucoure and released online in early September, follows the story of a rebellious 11-year-old Parisian girl called Amy.
Amy, also of French-Senegalese descent, joins a dance group started by three other girls from her neighborhood that sometimes performs provocative moves.
The Texas grand jury indicted Netflix under a law that forbids “the lewd exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of an unclothed, partially clothed, or clothed child."
A guilty verdict in Texas could lead to a prison term, although analysts said a fine and being forced to pull the film would be a more likely outcome.
The jury decided the film had "no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value."
Netflix defended the film. A spokesperson told AFP the movie is a "social commentary against the sexualization of young girls," adding that the charge is "without merit."
In September, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who had not seen the film, called on the Justice Department to investigate whether it had broken any laws banning child pornography.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton joined two other state attorney generals in a letter asking Netflix to withdraw the film from its hugely popular streaming platform.
The controversy around "Cuties" has mobilized the conservative American right in Texas and beyond in the run-up to the November 3 election. The Trump campaign has tried to play it up as a sign of two contrasting visions of society, the traditional Christian values of the Republicans and the more iconoclastic, liberal approach of the Democrats.
"Cuties," called "Mignonnes" in French, earned director Doucoure an award at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Doucoure said her film was about the objectification of women and children, and the pressure pre-teen girls feel to be pretty and sexy.