A judge has thrown out a lawsuit from the stars of the 1968 film Romeo & Juliet which accused Paramount of sexual exploitation and distributing nude images of adolescent children.
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were 15 and 16 when they performed in director Franco Zeffirelli's adaptation of the historic tale by William Shakespeare. While the movie was nominated for four Oscars, it drew condemnation at the time for a nude scene showing Hussey’s breasts and Whiting's buttocks.
Both now in their 70s, the actors filed their suit in January, alleging that Zeffirelli initially told them they would wear flesh colored undergarments in the bedroom scene. The two claimed the director showed them the camera's position, and insisted that no nude bodies would be shown. Hussey and Whiting say that their naked bodies were filmed and distributed without their knowledge or consent.
Superior Court Judge Alison Mackenzie ruled in favor of Paramount, determining that the nude scene was protected under the first amendment, and that Whiting and Hussey “have not put forth any authority showing the film here can be deemed to be sufficiently sexually suggestive as a matter of law to be held to be conclusively illegal.”
Attorney for the actors Solomon Gresen denounced the ruling, and said that they plan to file another version of the suit in federal court.
“We firmly believe that the exploitation and sexualization of minors in the film industry must be confronted and legally addressed to protect vulnerable individuals from harm and ensure the enforcement of existing laws," he said in a statement.
According to their original claim, Hussey and Whiting both lost job opportunities because of the controversial scene at the time. Despite the film being their breakout performances, both actors' careers were limited following its release.
Hussey and Whiting also reported experiencing severe "mental anguish and emotional distress" in the five decades since the movie's premiere. When originally filing, Gresen told Varietythat distributing the images was unlawful and damaging.
“Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited," he said. "These were very young naïve 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.”