• Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023


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Actors lose Romeo & Juliet nude scene lawsuit

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the stars of 1968's Romeo and JulietGetty Images

A Los Angeles judge says she will dismiss a child sex abuse lawsuit brought by the stars of the 1968 film Romeo and Juliet.

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting alleged the film’s director coerced them into filming nude while underage.

A Superior Court judge found the scene wasn’t “sufficiently sexually suggestive” to overrule First Amendment protections.

Hussey was 15 at the time of filming and Whiting 16.

In a tentative ruling issued on Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alison Mackenzie said the plaintiffs “cherry picked” which statutes applied to their case. She also said the lawsuit did not meet the requirements for suspending the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse.

Attorney Solomon Gresen, who represented both Ms Hussey and Mr Whiting in the case, told BBC News he felt the ruling was on “the wrong side of this issue.”

“There’s no First Amendment protection of nude children simulating sexual congress,” Mr Gresen said.

He said his clients are considering an appeal and he intends to file a separate lawsuit in federal court.

In a joint statement, Ms Hussey and Mr Whiting, now both in their 70s, said they would continue to fight.

“We waited going on 55 years for justice. I guess we’ll have to wait longer,” they said.

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the stars of 1968's Romeo and Juliet, pictured in 2018

Getty Images

In December, the actors filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures for sexual harassment and child sexual abuse. They claimed the film’s director, Franco Zeffirelli, had encouraged them to film nude scenes despite previous assurances they would not have to.

The suit alleged that Zeffirelli – who died in 2019 – said that they must act in the nude “or the Picture would fail”, according to the original complaint.

He then assured both actors that the cameras would not capture any nudity, the suit said.

However, in the final film, Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts were briefly shown during the scene.

The two actors sought damages of more than $500m (£417m), based on suffering they said they had experienced and the revenue brought in by the film since its release.

The BBC contacted Paramount for comment, but has not received a response.

“We firmly believe that the exploitation and sexualisation of minors in the film industry must be confronted and legally addressed to protect vulnerable individuals from harm and ensure the enforcement of existing laws,” Mr Gresen said in a statement.

The 1968 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet won numerous Academy Awards, including for Best Picture and Best Cinematography.

But the infamous bedroom scene has also sparked controversy over the years.

The film continues to be shown in classrooms around the world during lessons on William Shakespeare.

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