Netflix: Selling Exploitation as Entertainment 365 Days a Year

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Netflix is a subscription-based service that streams and produces films and TV shows. With over 220 million subscribers worldwide, Netflix is the number one most popular video streaming service in the world. Yet mixed in with the fun and entertainment is rampant sexualization of children and glamorization of abuse. 

Glorifying Sexual Violence: 365 Days and its New Sequel, 365 Days: This Day

Netflix is in the business of hosting and producing shows that overtly glorify sexual violence. A prime example of this is the film 365 Days and its recently released sequel, 365 Days: This Day365 Days was widely criticized for glamorizing sexual violence. But rather than removing the film Netflix produced a sequel, 365 Days: This Day, which was released on the platform on April 27, 2022, and rapidly became the 5th most watched movie in the US on Netflix that week.

The plotline of 365 Days is as follows: A handsome, powerful man name Massimo kidnaps a woman named Laura whom he desires. Massimo tells Laura that he will hold her captive for 365 days, and if she doesn’t fall in love with him by the end of that timeframe, she will be free to leave. Although Massimo promises Laura that he will not touch her without her consent, he repeatedly gropes her during her captivity, even in the very act of making that promise. He also handcuffs her to the bed and forces her to watch while he performs sexual acts with another woman. When Laura tries to escape, Massimo threatens to hurt her family. Nonetheless, Laura does eventually fall in love with Massimo and the two go on to have a steamy, glamorous relationship. This progression of events romanticizes and implicitly condones all of Massimo’s abuse, painting it as merely the rising action in a glorious love story.

Following the release of 365 Days in 2020, a petition was launched by influencer and survivor Mikayla Zazon, calling on Netflix to remove this incredibly harmful movie from its platform. The petition garnered almost 100,000 signatures. The singer-songwriter Duffy also urged Netflix to remove the film through an open letter in which she bravely sharing her experience of surviving being sex-trafficked and raped. Duffy writes: 

“I calm myself to explain to you here – when I was trafficked and raped, I was lucky to come away with my life, but far too many have not been so lucky. And now I have to witness these tragedies, and my tragedy, eroticized and demeaned. Where can one turn? But to have to address you in writing.

To anyone who may exclaim ‘it is just a movie’, it is not ‘just’, when it has great influence to distort a subject which is widely undiscussed, such as sex trafficking and kidnapping, by making the subject erotic.”

Despite all of this well-warranted backlash, 365 Days remains on Netflix to this day and now tragically joined by a sequel which continues its dangerous messages. 

365 Days: This Day picks up with Laura and Massimo getting happily married, again whitewashing all the abuse that led to their relationship. Massimo continues to be depicted in romanticized terms. For example, in the ending scene he swoops in to rescue Laura from other captors who are holding her at gunpoint – a supposedly “grand romantic gesture” which conveniently ignores that Massimo himself was the first person to kidnap Laura and hold her captive against her will.

Unlike the first movie, 365 DaysThis Day is a Netflix original, produced by Netflix itself. This means that Netflix not only failed to condemn and remove 365 Days from its platform, but it actively decided to take even further responsibility for its abhorrent messages by producing its follow-ups. 

Normalizing Child Sexual Exploitation and Incest

Netflix doesn’t stop at normalizing sexual violence against women. It is also willing to host shows which normalize child sexual exploitation and incest. 

Netflix has sparked public outrage numerous times over shows that sexualize children or normalize child sexual exploitation. For example, a 2020 petition demanding that Netflix cancel the film Cuties for its hyper-sexualization of young girls garnered almost 400,000 signatures. In 2018, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation and 54 other anti-trafficking organizations and advocates sent a letter to Netflix urging them to halt production on the show Baby, which painted the real-life story of child sex trafficking victims as a trivialized and empowering venture. Yet in both these cases, Netflix callously ignored the public’s well-placed concerns and these shows remain on the platform to this day. This year, in addition to continuing to demand the removal of Cuties and Baby, we are also highlighting the Netflix original Big Mouth. 

Big Mouth is an animated sitcom about a group of tweens going through puberty. The show is made for adults, yet it is overflowing with sexually explicit content depicting children, leading some to contend that Big Mouth is “the beginning of normalizing pedophilia.” Those who disagree argue that the show is intended to be humorous rather than titillating but, even then, the reality is that humor can be a very normalizing tactic and there is no doubt that Big Mouth goes too far in either case. Whether one’s goal is to make the audience laugh or make them aroused, sexually explicit content depicting children should not be employed as the means to this end.

To make matters worse, some of the subplots in Big Mouth also normalize incest, child-on-child sexual assault, and objectophilia as they depict the tween characters engaging in these acts or suggesting doing so. For example, the character Andrew starts a sexual relationship with his cousin and offers to perform fellatio on his father. The character Maury suggests child-on-child sexual assault, saying, “Maybe we should pin him [a young boy] to the ground, jam it [Andrew’s private part] in his mouth – just sheer f—king degradation.” Meanwhile, the character Jay develops feelings for his pillow and begins regularly “having sex” with it. Although the show is made for adults, many children are watching it as well. Big Mouth therefore deserves to be condemned both for how it packages sexually explicit content depicting children for the entertainment of adults, and for how it encourages children to engage in divergent and illegal sexual activity.

Netflix’s Progress in Recent Years

It is important to acknowledge that Netflix made significant improvements after being named to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation Dirty Dozen list in previous years. Such improvements include strengthening their parental controls to include the ability to set maturity restrictions specific to each profile, and pin-lock profiles so that children can’t access certain content. Netflix also increased the age rating on app stores to 12+. Previously, the app rating was 4+, which was dangerously misleading considering the high volume of graphic sex acts, nudity, sexual assault, and more in Netflix content. 

Why is Netflix on the Dirty Dozen List again in 2022? 

We applaud Netflix for being amenable to our recommendations regarding parental controls and app ratings. However, Netflix has failed to take any action on our previous recommendations about the exploitative content on their platform and continues to both create and acquire even more of this content. Netflix has ignored not only NCOSE’s concerns, but also petitions from influencers and large numbers of the general public demanding the removal of offending shows. For these reasons, Netflix has been placed on the 2022 Dirty Dozen List (view the full list that was revealed March 8 here). 

Our Requests for Further Improvement from Netflix

We are calling on Netflix to stop hosting and producing content which normalizes and fuels sexual violence, child sexual exploitation, incest, and all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation. We continue to press on them to remove shows like Cuties, Baby, and 365 Days—actions which are long overdue—and we add requests for the removal of Big Mouth and 365 Days: This Day. We encourage Netflix to re-assess its policies on how they respond to public calls for the removal of offending films; it is inexcusable that Netflix did nothing in the face of hundreds of thousands of people petitioning for the removal of certain films, and that these remain on their platform to this day. 

Help us call on Netflix to stop normalizing sexual abuse and exploitation! In less than a minute or two, you can email Netflix directly via the easy-to-use action below to urge them to do the right thing. 

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The Numbers

300+

NCOSE leads the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation with over 300 member organizations.

100+

The National Center on Sexual Exploitation has had over 100 policy victories since 2010. Each victory promotes human dignity above exploitation.

93

NCOSE’s activism campaigns and victories have made headlines around the globe. Averaging 93 mentions per week by media outlets and shows such as Today, CNN, The New York Times, BBC News, USA Today, Fox News and more.

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