Paramount Pictures has won a lawsuit against Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, the stars of the Franco Zeffirelli Oscar-nominated 1968 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet. The lawsuit, which sought $100 million in damages, alleged sexual abuse and negligence by the filmmakers. Hussey and Whiting were 15 and 16 years old when the film was shot and claimed that Zeffirelli violated their consent by filming them nude without their knowledge.
Judge Alison Mackenzie dismissed the case, stating that the lawsuit contained a “gross mischaracterization” of the bedroom scenes in question from the film and citing the First Amendment. The judge added that the scenes from the Best Picture nominee could not be considered child pornography. The lawsuit was tossed under California’s anti-SLAPP laws, and the judge granted Paramount’s special motion to strike Plaintiffs’ entire Complaint as each cause of action asserted therein arises from protected activity and Plaintiffs have failed to show a probability of success on the merits of those claims.
Judge Mackenzie stated that the plaintiffs had 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.
Hussey and Whiting’s lawyer Solomon Gresen may be considering an appeal. Representatives for Paramount did not respond to a request for comment from Deadline on today’s tentative ruling.
The claims were in stark contrast to what Hussey said in 2018 when she spoke of the nudity in the film. Back then, plugging a new memoir, the actress told Fox News that the nudity “wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Franco Zeffirelli, who directed the film, was unable to respond to Hussey and Whiting’s accusations as he died in 2019. However, his son Pippo Zeffirelli responded to the allegations stating that it was 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.
The nudity was certainly a big deal of a sort when Romeo & Juliet came out in March 1968. Nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director, the controversial picture won Best Cinematography and Costume Design Oscars. Both Whiting and Hussey also won Golden Globes for their performances.
Paramount Pictures has successfully defended itself against a $100 million lawsuit filed by the stars of the 1968 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet. The judge dismissed the case, citing the First Amendment and ruling that the plaintiffs had failed to show a probability of success on the merits of their claims. The film has been considered a classic, and both Whiting and Hussey won Golden Globe awards for their performances.
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