Judge to dismiss £500,000,000 Romeo & Juliet lawsuit over nude scene
A judge is set to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Paramount of sexual abuse over a nude scene in Romeo and Juliet.
Actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting – who were 16 and 17 when filming the 1968 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play – had filed a complaint seeking $500 million over director Franco Zeffirelli’s movie.
The lawsuit claims that studio Paramount profited off alleged harassment and sexual exploitation.
On Thursday, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Alison Mackenzie suggested she will dismiss the lawsuit.
She found that claims the film depicts sexual acts are a ‘gross mischaracterisation’ of the scene, adding in a tentative ruling that the claims ‘arise from protected activity’ under the US’ First Amendment.
The actors’ suit was filed under a California law which has suspended the window to file a complaint over childhood sexual assault.
It centres around a bedroom scene in the film which briefly shows Hussey’s bare breasts and Whiting’s buttocks.
The pair have accused director Zeffirelli over pressuring them into the nude scenes, alleging that he previously told them they could wear flesh-coloured undergarments for the shoot.
They claim the filmmaker told them ‘that they must act in the nude of the Picture would fail’, adding they would ‘never work again in any profession, let alone Hollywood’.
The film studio has looked to dismiss the lawsuit under the state’s anti-SLAPP statute, which allows for claims challenging protected speech to be dismissed early.
However, Whiting and Hussey have alleged the scene in question is child pornography over both federal and California law, and so the studio can’t use First Amendment protections.
Judge Mackenzie found that the scene isn’t ‘sufficiently sexually suggestive’, and referred to case law saying only images containing ‘lascivious exhibition of the genitals of pubic area’ are child pornography.
Solomon Gressen, a lawyer for the stars, had argued during the hearing that he simply just needs to prove that the studio knew they were minors, but his claim was dismissed by the judge.
She asked: ‘You’re saying photos of people under the age of 18 is an illegal act?’
He replied: ‘Nude images is all that’s needed for the crime.’
It’s said the lawsuit has also been dismissed for procedural reasons.
While the California law gives adults more time to take action over alleged childhood sexual abuse, complainants have to provide a certificate of merit from a licensed mental health practitioner to show reasonable basis to believe they were sexually assaulted when they were younger.
They also cannot name themselves in the complaints, and instead must file as ‘Doe’.
Gressen has argued that Paramount cannot raise the failure to file the certificate in question in an anti-SLAPP motion, but the judge disagreed and said his ‘interpretation of [the statute] defies common sense’.
Gressen is set to appeal the ruling and intends to file another complaint including claims Paramount is still profiting from the film after it was rereleased in February this year.
‘We believe that there’s no constitutional protection for the nude images of minor children in film,’ he said.
In a statement, Whiting and Hussey added: ‘We waited going on 55 years for justice. I guess we’ll have to wait longer.’
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