'Romeo and Juliet' Sexual Exploitation Lawsuit Over Nude Scene Involving Minors Dismissed by Judge

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who starred in 1968's 'Romeo and Juliet,' sued Paramount in December over a nude scene filmed when they were under 18

Bettmann/Getty Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey in <em>Romeo and Juliet</em> (1968)
Bettmann/Getty Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey in Romeo and Juliet (1968)

A lawsuit brought against Paramount Pictures over a nude scene involving minors in the 1968 film Romeo and Juliet is being dismissed by a judge.

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the actors who played the titular roles when they were under 18 in Franco Zeffirelli's film, filed a lawsuit in California's Santa Monica Superior Court on Dec. 30. They accused the production company of sexual harassment, fraud, sexual abuse and intentional infliction of emotional distress, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleged that late director told Hussey and Whiting (now both 72) the film would not include nudity and used flesh-colored clothing for the scene in question, until he allegedly suggested the movie "would fail" unless the stars performed the scene nude while wearing body makeup on the last day of filming. Hussey and Whiting alleged the director lied and they were ultimately filmed nude without their knowledge.

Their lawsuit relied on a recent California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations regarding claims of child sexual abuse that had a Dec. 31, 2022, deadline.

On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alison Mackenzie indicated that she would dismiss the lawsuit, according to court documents obtained by PEOPLE, saying the film's content didn't rise to the level of child pornography and noted that the plaintiffs didn't follow all the steps to comply with the California law.


The judge wrote, "Plaintiffs have not put forth any authority showing the film here can be deemed to be sufficiently sexually suggestive as a matter of law to be held to be conclusively illegal. Plaintiffs' argument on the subject is limited to cherry-picked language from federal and state statutes without offering any authority regarding the interpretation or application of those statutory provisions to purported works of artistic merit, such as the award-winning film at issue here."

Elsewhere, the judge added, "Here, Defendant has not conceded that any of its conduct was illegal, nor have Plaintiffs conclusively demonstrated the alleged conduct is illegal as a matter of law. Indeed, Plaintiffs themselves recognize that depictions of naked minors will only constitute illegal child pornography if they are 'sufficiently sexually suggestive.' Plaintiffs have not put forth any authority showing the film here can be deemed to be sufficiently sexually suggestive as a matter of law to be held to be conclusively illegal."

The actors' attorney Solomon Gresen "strongly denounced" the judge's decision, according to a press release, and said they plan to move forward with a federal lawsuit over a 2023 re-release of Romeo and Juliet.

"We firmly believe that the exploitation and sexualization 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," said Gresen.

Paramount did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

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The December filing said the actors were seeking compensation "believed to be in excess of $500 million" to match the amount of money the film has earned since 1968.

The lawsuit stated that Hussey and Whiting suffered "physical and emotional pain, along with extreme and severe mental anguish and emotional distress" in the decades since the movie's release, as well as "a lifetime of loss of earnings and other employment benefits and job opportunities."

Director Zeffirelli's son Pippo slammed the lawsuit in a January statement to THR, saying, "It is embarrassing to hear that today, 55 years after filming, two elderly actors who owe their notoriety essentially to this film wake up to declare that they have suffered an abuse that has caused them years of anxiety and emotional discomfort."

Romeo and Juliet was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, winning two categories: Cinematography and Costume Design. Hussey and Whiting both won Golden Globes for new star of the year for the movie.

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