Child abuse lawsuit in Romeo and Juliet dismissed by judge | Movies


The stars of Franco Zeffirelli’s Oscar-winning film have lost their battle for damages for now over a sex scene that was filmed when they were teenagers

Thu May 25, 2023 4:10 PM EDT

A California judge has indicated it will drop a child molestation lawsuit brought by the two protagonists of the 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.

Last December, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who were teenagers when they made Franco Zeffirelli’s Oscar-winning film, accused Paramount of sexual exploitation over a nude scene they claimed they insisted on after being told it would not take place.

This week, Judge Alison Mackenzie suggested she side with the studio in a preliminary ruling, rejecting allegations that the film amounts to child abuse images, while stating that prosecutors are violating the rules of California law requiring a temporary suspension. statute of limitations for abuse claims.

Mackenzie wrote that there was no convincing argument that the film would be “sexually suggestive enough to be conclusively found illegal” and that prosecutors had “plucked language from federal and state statutes without offering any authority as to the interpretation or application of those legal provisions on alleged works of artistic value”.

The actors, who were both under 18 at the time, reportedly intend to appeal and file a separate lawsuit attached to the recent Criterion DVD release of the film, which would not be affected by the statute of limitations. “Children cannot consent to the use of these images,” said the couple’s lawyer, Solomon Gressen. “They profit from these images without permission.”

He called them “very young naive kids in the 1960s who didn’t know what to expect”.

Both actors filed statements claiming that they “acted like we were having intercourse” and suffered from “mental anguish and emotional distress” and missed job opportunities in the years since. They reportedly sought $100 million in damages.

Paramount called their memories “entirely false and perjury testimony”.

“We have waited 55 years for justice,” the actors said in a statement. “I think we should wait longer.”

Zeffirelli passed away in 2019 and earlier this year his son Pippo Zeffirelli, who is also the president of the Franco Zeffirelli Foundation, criticized the lawsuit, claiming the scene was “far from pornographic”.

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