Romeo and Juliet actors Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey are accusing Paramount of sexual misconduct and are bringing a significant lawsuit against the studio. Shakespeare’s timeless love story was adapted for the screen by Italian filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli, who also co-wrote the screenplay. The movie received a tonne of praise from critics. It was nominated for four Oscars, winning Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design while also receiving a nod for Best Picture. It would also win the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in English in that same year. Romeo and Juliet have been adapted for the screen numerous times, but Zeffirelli’s version is still among the most lauded.
Stars Hussey and Whiting are suing Paramount Pictures for $500 million+ (via Variety) 55 years after the movie’s debut for allegedly sexually abusing the young performers and disseminating pornographic images of minors. Despite guarantees given to the actors that there wouldn’t be any nudity in the movie, a sex scene that showed Hussey’s breasts and Whiting’s buttocks gave rise to the case, which was filed on December 30, 2022. Hussey and Whiting were both 15 years old at the time. Below is an excerpt from the document:
What We Know So Far About Hussey and Whiting’s Legal Case
According to the lawsuit, Zeffirelli assured the young performers that Romeo and Juliet would not feature any genuine nudity and that they would only be donning flesh-colored underwear instead. Hussey and Whiting assure the camera wouldn’t see them on the day the sex scene to scheduled to film, but Zeffirelli told them the movie would “collapse” if they didn’t appear nude. Despite his alleged involvement, the director passed away in 2019, and the lawsuit did not list him as a defendant. Instead, the performers are bringing a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures, the movie’s distributor.
Even if the lawsuit might seem unexpected more than 50 years later, Hussey and Whiting have discussed Romeo and Juliet’s sex scene in recent years. Hussey defended the scene in an interview in 2018, saying that it “wasn’t that big of a deal” and that it “was needed for the picture.” In addition, Hussey notes that while the naked scene was shocking in 1968 in the United States, it was considerably more common in European movies and that “during the shooting, [she] just completely forgot [she] didn’t have clothes on.
Hussey and Whiting, who in 2018 appeared to support the naked scene, have since altered their minds. They are well within their rights to do so if they believe that they were sexually exploited, especially as children. The manager of actors Hussey and Whiting praised them for bringing the lawsuit, saying it took great courage for the now-71 and 72-year-old performers to speak out against the “sexploitation” of children. There will undoubtedly be changes in the Romeo and Juliet case in the upcoming weeks, notwithstanding Paramount Pictures’ lack of response to the lawsuit.