The two actors who played famous teenage lovers Romeo and Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of this Shakespearian tragedy in 1968 have filed a complaint against Paramount Pictures studio for a scene of non-consensual nudity, a announced their lawyer on Tuesday.
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who were respectively 15 and 16 years old during filming, had each been awarded a Golden Globe for their performance in this film.
Now in their seventies, the two actors filed a complaint last week last in Santa Monica, California: they accuse the Paramount studio, which produced the film, of having sexually exploited them when they were still minors, by broadcasting an intimate scene which reveals their buttocks and bare chests.
According to this complaint, consulted by AFP, the Italian director Franco Zeffirelli – who died in 2019 – heavily insisted that they shoot this scene, otherwise “the film would fail”, when it was originally to be done with flesh-colored underwear.
The complaint accuses those responsible for the film “of being dishonest and of secretly filming nude or partially nude minors without their consent, in violation of the laws (…) regulating indecency and the sexual exploitation of minors”.
According to the document, the two actors suffered from anxieties and emotional distress in the more than five decades following the film. They are claiming compensation in the amount of several hundred million dollars.
According to their lawyer Solomon Gresen, the damage suffered has continued over the years, in particular with the release of a new version of the film.
The Paramount studio “has images of naked minors that they know should be removed from the film,” he denounced to AFP. “Sexual images of children are serious and should not be tolerated. ”
Contacted by AFP, Paramount did not immediately respond to comment on the complaint.
Trade magazine Variety pointed out that Olivia Hussey had defended the offending scene in her columns during a 2018 interview. At the time, she felt that Franco Zeffirelli shot her appropriately.
“It was necessary for the film,” she said then.