The son of Romeo and Juliet director Franco Zeffirelli has criticized that film’s stars Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting after the actors filed a sexual exploitation and child abuse lawsuit against Paramount Pictures over a nude scene in the 1968 big screen adaptation.
Earlier this week, Hussey and Whiting, now 71 and 72, sued Paramount, claiming that Zeffirelli — who died in 2019 — violated their consent by filming them nude without their knowledge; Hussey and Whiting were 15 and 16 years old at the time of shooting.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Tony Marinozzi, who serves as a business manager for both Hussey and Whiting, said in a statement. “They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had. Franco was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what do they do? There are no options. There was no #MeToo.”
However, in a statement released Friday, the director’s son Pippo Zeffirelli slammed the actors’ lawsuit, saying that the scene in question was “far from pornographic.”
“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,” Pippo Zeffirelli said in a statement (via The Guardian).
“It appears to me that in all these years, they have always maintained a relationship of deep gratitude and friendship towards Zeffirelli, releasing hundreds of interviews about the happy memory of their very fortunate experience, which was crowned with worldwide success.”
Pippo Zeffirelli added that both actors, despite the “anxiety and emotional discomfort,” lauded the film was recently was three years ago. He also noted that Hussey again collaborated with Franco Zeffirelli for the 1977 miniseries Jesus of Nazareth, while Whiting attended his father’s funeral in Italy in 2019.
“Zeffirelli himself was accused of being reactionary precisely because, over and over again, he spoke out against pornography,” Pippo added, defending the scene. “The nude images in the film express the beauty, the transfer, I would even say the candor of mutual giving and do not contain any morbid feeling.”
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In January 2020, the statute of limitations for childhood sexual assault civil claims in California was suspended for three calendar years. The Romeo and Juliet suit against Paramount – which reportedly is seeking $500 million in damages – was filed just ahead of the December 31, 2022 cut-off for survivors of childhood sexual assault to file a civil complaint for abuse regardless of their age.
Now that the statute of limitations has resumed, survivors must file their complaint before they turn 40-years-old, or within five years of the date they discover — or should have discovered within reason — damage caused by the alleged childhood sexual assault.