Paramount Seeks to Throw Out Suit Over 1968 ‘Romeo and Juliet’ Nude Scene

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Paramount has filed a motion to throw out a lawsuit over the 1968 version of “Romeo and Juliet,” arguing that a nude scene with underage actors does not amount to “childhood sexual assault.”

Actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting were 16 and 17 when they starred in the movie, which was directed by Franco Zeffirelli. The film’s famous bedroom scene includes a lingering shot of Whiting’s buttocks and a brief glimpse of Hussey’s breasts.

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The actors, now in their 70s, filed a $500 million suit in December, alleging that Zeffirelli pressured them into performing in the nude. They accused Paramount, the distributor, of profiting from their sexual exploitation.

Paramount’s lawyers filed a motion on Monday, arguing that the suit is doomed to fail for a host of reasons. Among other things, the suit argues that the actors cannot file suit under a California law that suspends the statute of limitations for child sexual assault, because the scene does not qualify as assault.

The motion also notes that Hussey and Whiting have fondly recalled their participation in the film in the intervening decades, including in a 2018 Variety interview and a 2016 Q&A with the British Film Institute.

The motion argues that Hussey and Whiting cannot sue in California, as they lived in the U.K. at the time and the filming took place in Italy. They also note that Paramount was only the distributor of the film, not the production company. Paramount was thus not Zeffirelli’s employer, and was not responsible for supervising his conduct on set, the motion argues.

The motion invokes the California anti-SLAPP statute, which protects First Amendment speech on matters of public debate. Paramount argues that the film stoked “ongoing debate about nudity in cinema.” The company also quotes from a glowing 1968 review of the film by Roger Ebert.

“A lot of fuss has been made about the brief, beautiful nude love scene,” Ebert wrote at the time. “I doubt whether anyone could see it and disapprove of it, but apparently someone has.”

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