Teen stars of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ sue Paramount for sexual exploitation in 1968 film

Teen stars of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ sue Paramount for sexual exploitation in 1968 film

The actors accused the studio of sexual exploitation for including a nude scene in the adaptation of the Shakespeare play

OLIVIA Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who were only teenagers when they captured audience’s attention in Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 adaptation of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, have filed a lawsuit against Paramount Studios for allegedly sexually exploiting them.

The film made a splash and was nominated for four Academy Awards, but stirred controversy for a bedroom scene that included images of Whiting’s buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts. The former teen stars, now in their 70s, are accusing Paramount of sexually exploiting and distributing nude images of them.

The lawsuit alleges that the movie’s director, Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially assured both actors that there would be no nudity, and they would wear flesh-coloured undergarments for the bedroom scene. However, during the final days of filming, the director changed his mind and pushed for them to perform in the nude with body make-up, saying “the picture would fail” if they didn’t.

Hussey was 15 at the time and Whiting was 16.

According to the suit, Zeffirelli showed them where the camera would be positioned, and assured them that no nudity would be photographed or released in the final film. The suit alleges that he lied, and that Whiting and Hussey were filmed nude without their knowledge.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” said Tony Marinozzi, who is a business manager for both actors. “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 complaint, Hussey and Whiting have suffered mental anguish and emotional distress in the 55 years since the film’s release and have also lost out on job opportunities.

Despite their breakout performances, Hussey and Whiting had only limited acting careers after ‘Romeo and Juliet.’

They are seeking damages “believed to be in excess of US$500 million (approximately RM2.2 billion).”

“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited,” said the actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen, in an interview. “These were very young naive children in the ’60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them. Suddenly, they were famous at a level they never expected, and in addition they were violated in a way they did not know how to deal with.”

The lawsuit relies in part on a California law that suspended the statute of limitations for older claims of child sexual abuse. The courts saw an influx of complaints against the Boy Scouts of America and the Catholic Church, among other organisations, in the days leading up to the December 31 deadline.

Paramount did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a 2018 interview with Variety, Hussey defended the nude scene.

“Nobody my age had done that before,” she said, adding that Zeffirelli shot it tastefully. “It was needed for the film.”

In another 2018 interview with Fox News, she said that the scene was “taboo” in America, but that nudity was already common in European films at the time.

“It wasn’t that big of a deal,” she said. “And Leonard was not shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I did not have clothes on.”

source – The Vibes


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