[Warning: Potentially Triggering Content]
A couple different generations grew up knowing about this controversy!
Before Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes and The Cardigans, the Romeo and Juliet every 8th grade literature class had to watch was the 1968 version directed by Franco Zeffirelli. It was a huge hit that was nominated for four Oscars, and for years it was considered the film version of the Shakespeare classic. It helped that for more verisimilitude, the Italian filmmaker cast actual teens to play the titular star-crossed lovers instead of seasoned adults as one would sometimes see on stage. It makes the play make a lot more sense with that context. This would all be fine were it not for that one scene…
As those of you who lived through their teacher desperately trying to fast-forward the ancient VHS tape know, after Romeo and Juliet consummate their marriage, they are shown in bed the next morning — nude! And you see for just a moment Romeo’s butt and Juliet’s breasts. There’s just a bit of nudity, but considering Leonard Whiting was 16 years old at the time and Olivia Hussey was only 15, it’s pretty sketchy — even for the ’60s.
It turns out the actors are still pretty upset about it all these years later! In fact, they say it was more than just filming them nude — they were tricked! Per a surprise report in Variety on Wednesday, Whiting and Hussey, who are both in their 70s now, filed a lawsuit late last week against Paramount for sexual exploitation and distributing nude images of adolescent children. Yeah.
They claim Zeffirelli (who died in 2019) first told them they would be wearing flesh-colored underwear to protect their modesty. Then as the scene approached, he begged them to go nude “or the Picture would fail.” However, they claim, he assured them with the angles of the camera that their private bits would not be seen. Unfortunately for teachers throughout the country, that wasn’t true. As the pair’s business manager Tony Marinozzi put it:
“What they were told and what went on were two different things. 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.”
They complain in the suit how they suffered mental anguish and emotional distress in the 55 years since the film embarrassed and betrayed them. They also argue they lost out on job opportunities due to the nudity. Attorney Solomon Gresen explained:
“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited. 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.”
In recompense, they are demanding from Paramount a number “believed to be in excess of $500 million.” A HALF BILLION?! Wow.
Innerestingly, a couple years ago Hussey seemed to have a different view of the scene. She defended it in an interview with Variety in 2018, saying that while “nobody my age had done that before,” it was shot tastefully and “it was needed for the film,” explaining:
“It wasn’t that big of a deal. And Leonard wasn’t shy at all! In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on.”
What changed? Well, there was a temporary suspension of the statute of limitations for claims of child sexual abuse in California — which ended on December 31, so they got in right under the wire.
What do YOU think of the actors’ lawsuit?