A judge on Thursday said she will throw out a lawsuit over a nude scene in the 1968 version of “Romeo and Juliet,” after finding that the film is protected by the First Amendment.
The stars of the film, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, filed the suit in December, alleging that they were coerced by director Franco Zeffirelli into performing nude in the film’s bedroom scene. Hussey was 16 at the time of filming; Whiting was 17.
Judge Alison Mackenzie granted Paramount’s motion to throw out the suit, finding that the plaintiffs had not complied with the provisions of a California law that temporarily suspended the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims.
Mackenzie also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that the nude scene amounted to “child pornography.”
“Plaintiffs 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,” the judge wrote. “Plaintiffs’ argument on the subject is limited to cherry-picked 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, such as the award-winning film at issue here.”
Paramount sought to dismiss the suit under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which is intended to weed out frivolous lawsuits that suppress free speech. The judge found both that “Romeo and Juliet” qualifies for First Amendment protection, and that the suit is barred by the statute of limitations.
Solomon Gresen, who represents Hussey and Whiting, said in an interview that he was consulting with appellate lawyers, and also planned to file a separate lawsuit in federal court. The plaintiffs plan to base the new lawsuit on a Criterion Collection DVD of the film, which came out in February. The Criterion release included a 4K digital restoration, which Gresen argued would restart the statute of limitations.
“Children cannot consent to use of these images,” Gresen said. “They’re profiting off these images without consent.”
The bedroom scene includes a lingering shot of Whiting’s buttocks and a glimpse of Hussey’s breasts as she gets out of the bed.
Hussey and Whiting submitted declarations to the court on May 11, in which they described their experience during filming. In her declaration, Hussey stated that during the scene, Whiting “returned to the bed and gets under the covers with me, climbs on top of me and we acted like we were having intercourse.”
Whiting made a similar representation, saying that he “got under the covers with Plaintiff Hussey, climbed on top of her and we acted like we were having intercourse.”
In response, Paramount’s lawyers called that “completely false and perjured testimony.” Paramount’s lawyers stated that the film “depicts a completely different scene and sequence of events.”