It’s a movie that countless high school students have been shown in English class over the years, but now the 1968 version of “Romeo and Juliet” is the subject of a huge lawsuit against Paramount filed by the film’s two young stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey, who were teenagers when they appeared in the film. Variety reports that according to the lawsuit, they were pressured by the film’s director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, to do the nudity after being assured previously that it wouldn’t be necessary.
Whiting and Hussey are suing Paramount for damages in excess of $500 million, owing to mental and emotional distress as a result of having filmed the scene as well as missed career opportunities that followed. Whiting was 16 when the scene was filmed and Hussey was 15, and according to their shared business manager Tony Marinozzi, the filmmakers misled the young actors into agreeing to film it:
“What they were told and what went on were two different things…They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had. Franco was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what do they do? There are no options. There was no #MeToo.”
According to the lawsuit, Zeffirelli gave the actors false information about the positioning of the camera and assured them that there would be no on-screen nudity in the finished film. And their attorney, Solomon Gresen, used even stronger language to describe the situation in an interview:
“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited…These were very young naive children in the ’60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them. All of a sudden they were famous at a level they never expected, and in addition they were violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with.”
The suit was filed as a result of state law in California that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse cases through the end of 2022.