The Disturbing Reason The Stars Of The Classic 1968 Romeo And Juliet Are Suing Paramount

"Romeo and Juliet" instantly became a sensation when it was released in 1968 (via the BBC). The film, which was directed by Franco Zeffirelli, scored four Academy Award nominations and won two for best cinematography and costume design (per IMDb). According to Variety, actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting portrayed the titular characters. They were only 15 and 16, respectively, at the time of filming. Although they were minors at the time, The New York Times explains that there is one scene in the film that briefly displays nudity. Hussey's breasts are shown, and Whiting's backside is exposed while the pair are in bed.

In a 2018 interview with Variety, Hussey said of the scene, "Nobody my age had done that before." She went on to say (via Fox News), "But it was just the fact that I was 16 that got a lot of publicity ... The large crew we worked with was whittled down to only the very basic people, a handful of people. It was done later in the day when it wasn't busy. It was a closed set." However, both Hussey and Whiting sued Paramount in 2022 over allegations of child abuse, per Variety.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

The actors allege sexual exploitation

Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting filed a suit against Paramount for sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and fraud in late 2022, the BBC wrote. The actors, who are now in their 70s, allege that director Franco Zeffirelli guaranteed them that there would be no nudity in "Romeo and Juliet." Hussey and Whiting claim that they were told they were going to wear nude undergarments for the now-infamous bedroom scene (via Variety). But it seems that Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, had a change of heart. He told the then-teenage actors on the day of filming that they had to act out the scene in the nude "or the picture would fail."

Hussey and Whiting agreed to this but claim that they were filmed in the nude without their knowledge (via the BBC). The actors allege that this caused both their mental health and careers to suffer, according to Variety. Moreover, the actors blame Paramount for allowing the nude scene to transpire in the first place (per The New York Times). The lawsuit states that the production company "knew or should have known images of plaintiffs' nude bodies were secretly and unlawfully obtained during the performance." As a result, Hussey and Whiting are seeking more than $500 million in damages, AP News states.

If you or someone you know may be the victim of child abuse, please contact the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child (1-800-422-4453) or contact their live chat services.

Franco Zeffirelli abuse accusations

Although "Romeo and Juliet" was filmed 55 years ago, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were able to sue Paramount thanks to California's "look-back" window (via Variety). This law temporarily suspended the statute of limitations to allow childhood victims of sexual abuse to get justice, explains Patch. Hussey and Whiting filed their suit the day before this window closed. The actors' business manager, Tony Marinozzi, told the BBC that they feel "betrayed" by Franco Zeffirelli. Meanwhile, their lawyer, Solomon Green, stated, "These were very young, naive children in the 60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them."

The late Zeffirelli is no stranger to abuse allegations, per The Hollywood Reporter. In 2018, actor Johnathon Schaech claimed that Zeffirelli had sexually abused him during the filming of the 1992 film "Sparrow" (via People). Schaech alleged that Zeffirelli entered his room without permission and attempted to assault him. He kept quiet about his experiences until the #MeToo Movement. Zeffirelli's son, Pippo, denounced these claims. "He was brutal to me," Schaech stated after Zeffirelli's death in 2019 (via The Hollywood Reporter). He added, "I never believed in myself after that. It was like a life theft. But when he passed, I realized, I can forgive him."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).