A California judge has signalled she will throw out a child abuse lawsuit put forward by the two lead actors from the 1968 adaptation of Romeo and Juliet.
Last December, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who were teenagers when making Franco Zeffirelli’s Oscar-winning film, accused Paramount of sexual exploitation over a nude scene they allege was insisted upon after being told it wouldn’t take place.
This week, Judge Alison Mackenzie has suggested she will side with the studio in a tentative ruling, rejecting the claim that the film amounted to images of child abuse while stating that the plaintiffs had not correctly followed the rules of the California law that allowed for a temporary suspension of statue of limitations over abuse claims.
Mackenzie wrote that there had been no persuasive argument as to the film being “sufficiently sexually suggestive as a matter of law to be held conclusively illegal” and that the plaintiffs had “cherrypicked language from federal and state statutes without offering any authority regarding the interpretation or application of those statutory provisions to purported works of artistic merit”.
The actors, who were both under 18 at the time, are allegedly planning to appeal as well as file a separate lawsuit pinned to the recent Criterion DVD release of the film which would not be affected by the statute of limitations. “Children cannot consent to use of these images,” the pair’s lawyer Solomon Gressen said. “They’re profiting off these images without consent.”
He called them “very young naive children in the 1960s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them”.
Both actors submitted declarations, claiming that they “acted like we were having intercourse” and suffered “mental anguish and emotional distress” in the years since and lost out on job opportunities. They were reportedly seeking $100m in damages.
Paramount called their recollections “completely false and perjured testimony”.
“We waited going on 55 years for justice,” the actors said in a statement. “I guess we’ll have to wait longer.”
Zeffirelli died in 2019 and earlier this year his son Pippo Zeffirelli, who is also the president of the Franco Zeffirelli Foundation, criticised the lawsuit claiming the scene was “far from pornographic”.
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