Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Over Underage Nude Scene in 1968 Film ‘Romeo and Juliet’
Los Angeles County judge Alison Mackenzie confirmed she would grant Paramount Pictures’ motion to throw out a lawsuit over a nude scene in the 1968 film Romeo and Juliet, citing the First Amendment.
Earlier this year, lead actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting sued Paramount for sexual exploitation and child abuse over the use of nude footage in the movie, which was captured when they were 15 and 16, respectively. In the suit, the actors claimed that their consent was violated by the film’s director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019.
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 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.
Mackenzie, however, found that the plaintiffs had not complied with the provisions of the temporary suspension of the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims. The judge also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the nude scene could be considered “child pornography.” Additionally, she said the film qualifies for First Amendment protection.
“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 judge wrote in her decision. “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.”
In her ruling, Mackenzie quoted from an appeals court precedent that said child pornography is “particularly repulsive,” but “not all images of nude children are pornographic.”
The actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen, denounced the decision and said there are plans to file another version of the suit in federal court.
“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,” Gresen said in a statement.
At the time of the suit filing, Tony Marinozzi, who serves as a business manager for both Hussey and Whiting, explained that Zeffirelli violated Hussey and Whiting’s consent by filming them nude without their knowledge.
“What they were told and what went on were two different things,” Marinozzi 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.”
Gresen added in an interview with Variety, “These were very young naive children in the ’60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them. All of a sudden they were famous at a level they never expected, and in addition they were violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with.”
The director’s son, Pippo Zeffirelli, slammed the lawsuit, saying the scene in question was “far from pornographic.”
“Zeffirelli himself was accused of being reactionary precisely because, over and over again, he spoke out against pornography,” Pippo noted. “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.”
Zeffirelli’s take on the classic Shakespeare play was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards, while he also earned a nod for Best Director. The film ultimately won two Oscars, one for Best Cinematography and another for Best Costume Design.
Though the nude scenes garnered controversy upon the film’s release, Hussey herself brushed it off in a 2018 interview with Variety celebrating Romeo and Juliet‘s 50th anniversary. “Nobody my age had done that before. It was needed for the film,” she said at the time.
Martin Scorsese Meets With Pope Francis, Says Next Film Is About Jesus
- DIVINE INSPIRATION