A Los Angeles County judge said Thursday she will throw out a lawsuit the stars of 1968 “Romeo and Juliet” filed over the film’s nude scene, which they said involved them being subjected to fraud, sexual abuse and harassment when they were in their teens.
Superior Court Judge Alison Mackenzie ruled in favor of a motion by defendant Paramount Pictures to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Olivia Hussey, who played Juliet at 15 and is now 72, and Leonard Whiting, who played Romeo at 16 and he is also 72.
Mackenzie determined that the scene did not amount to child pornography and was protected by the First Amendment, finding that the actors “have not presented any authority showing that the film here can be considered sexually suggestive enough as a matter of law to be found conclusively illegal.” .
In its written decision, it also found that the lawsuit did not fall within the bounds of a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse, and that a re-release of the film in February did not change that.
The plaintiffs’ attorney denounced the decision and said they plan to file another version of the lawsuit in federal court.
“We strongly believe that the exploitation and sexualization of minors in the film industry must be legally confronted and addressed to protect vulnerable individuals and ensure compliance with existing laws,” attorney Solomon Gresen said in a statement.
The film and its theme song were huge hits at the time, and despite the nude scene briefly showing Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts, it was performed by generations of high school students studying Shakespearean tragedy. .
Director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019 at age 96, initially told the two that they would wear flesh-colored underwear in the bedroom scene that comes at the end of the film and was shot in the final days of filming, he alleges. the demand.
But on the morning of the shoot, Zeffirelli told Whiting and Hussey that they would only wear body makeup, while assuring them that the camera would be positioned so as not to show nudity, according to the lawsuit.
Despite those assurances, they were filmed naked without their knowledge, in violation of federal and California laws against indecency and the exploitation of children, the lawsuit alleges.
Zeffirelli told them they must act nude “or the film would flop” and their careers would suffer, the lawsuit says. The actors said the opposite was true, that neither had the careers that the film’s success suggested, and that each suffered emotional damage and mental anguish for decades. They had sought more than $500 million in damages.
The judge, however, found that the plaintiffs “selected” from the law and failed to provide the legal authority for why it should apply to “purported works of artistic merit, such as the award-winning film at issue here.”
He cited an appeals court precedent that said child pornography is “particularly repulsive,” but “not all images of nude children are pornographic.”
The ruling was based on California law that is meant to protect defendants’ free speech from being stifled by lawsuits and is often the first line of defense when lawsuits are filed.
An attorney for Paramount declined to comment on the ruling.