Judge tosses ‘Romeo and Juliet’ child sex-abuse suit
A California judge said she will toss a lawsuit over a nude scene in “Romeo and Juliet,” finding the 1968 film is protected under the First Amendment.
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting — both 72 and the titular stars of the Franco Zeffirelli flick — claimed they were coerced into performing nude in the film’s bedroom scene while minors.
They accused Paramount Pictures of sexual exploitation and distribution of nude imagery of children in their December suit, which sought more than $500 million in alleged damages.
Judge Alison Mackenzie granted Paramount’s motion to strike the lawsuit Thursday.
Mackenzie rejected Hussey and Whiting’s argument that the nude scene could be considered “child pornography.” The judge also found the pair did not comply with a 2020 California law that temporarily lifted the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse lawsuits.
According to court documents obtained by The Post, Mackenzie wrote there was no evidence the film included “sufficiently sexually suggestive as a matter of law to be held to be conclusively illegal.”
Paramount requested to dismiss the suit under the state’s anti-SLAPP statute, which allows defendants to move to strike supposedly meritless complaints that could undermine free speech.
Solomon Gresen, an attorney for Hussey and Whiting, said he plans to appeal the decision.
“I was angry,” Gresen told The Post on Friday. “I think that the anti-female bias in this country is real, and it’s something that I have dedicated my career to trying to right the wrongs.”
He added: “It’s abusive to take images of naked children. It’s abusive to tell them to take their clothes off. It’s abusive to distribute those and make money.”
Gresen also plans to file a federal claim, following the Criterion Collection DVD February re-release of “Romeo and Juliet,” which includes a 4K restoration of the film.
The Post has contacted Paramount for comment.
The pair said they were misled by Zeffirelli, who died in 2019. They claimed he promised there would not be nudity.
But just days before wrap, he allegedly urged the two to perform the bedroom scene in only body makeup, reportedly threatening “the picture would fail” if they did not agree.
The actors said in their suit they “suffered mental anguish and emotional distress” and lost job opportunities.
Hussey and Whiting this month provided the court separate descriptions of their experiences filming the scene, which showed a shot of Hussey’s breasts and Whiting’s behind.
Whiting said he “got under the covers with Plaintiff Hussey, climbed on top of her and we acted like we were having intercourse.” Hussey made a similar statement.
Paramount called the pair’s statements “completely false,” saying the film “depicts a completely different scene and sequence of events.”
Zeffirelli’s son, Pippo, called the claims “embarrassing” in a January statement.
“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,” he said.