A judge is expected to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses Paramount of sexual abuse for a scene in Romeo and Juliet that depicts a nudist.
Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who were 16 and 17 years old when filming the 1968 adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play, filed a lawsuit against director Franco Zeffirelli’s film, seeking $500 million.
The lawsuit asserts that Paramount profited from sexual harassment and exploitation.
Judge Alison Mackenzie of the Los Angeles Superior Court hinted that she will dismiss the lawsuit on Thursday.
She determined that allegations that the film depicts sexual acts are a “gross mischaracterization” of the scene, adding in a provisional ruling that the allegations “arise from protected activity” under the First Amendment of the United States.
The lawsuit was submitted in accordance with a California statute that suspends the deadline for filing a complaint regarding childhood sexual assault.
It focuses on a boudoir sequence in the movie that momentarily displays Hussey’s breasts and Whiting’s buttocks.
The two have accused director Zeffirelli of pressuring them into the nude sequences, claiming he told them they could don flesh-colored knickers during filming.
They claim the director told them “they must act naked or the film will fail” and that they would “never work again in any profession, much less in Hollywood.”
The film studio has sought dismissal of the litigation under the state’s anti-SLAPP statute, which permits early dismissal of claims challenging protected speech.
However, Whiting and Hussey have claimed that the contested scene is child pornography in violation of both federal and California law, so the studio cannot rely on First Amendment protections.
Judge Mackenzie determined that the scene is not’sufficiently sexually suggestive’ and cited case law stating that only images depicting ‘lascivious exhibition of the genitals of the pubic area’ are considered child pornography.
During the hearing, the actors’ attorney, Solomon Gressen, argued that he need only prove that the studio knew they were juveniles, but the judge rejected his argument.
She asked: ‘You’re saying photos of people under the age of 18 is an illegal act?’
He replied: ‘Nude images is all that’s needed for the crime.’
According to reports, the lawsuit was also dismissed for procedural reasons.
While California law allows adults more time to pursue legal action for alleged childhood sexual abuse, complainants must provide a certificate of merit from a licenced mental health practitioner to demonstrate a reasonable basis for believing they were sexually abused as children.
Additionally, they cannot identify themselves in the complaints; they must register under the name ‘Doe’.
Gressen has argued that Paramount cannot raise the failure to file the certificate in question in an anti-SLAPP motion, but the judge disagreed and said his ‘interpretation of [the statute] defies common sense’.
Gressen intends to appeal the ruling and file a second complaint, including allegations that Paramount is still profiting from the re-release of the film in February of this year.
‘We believe that there’s no constitutional protection for the nude images of minor children in film,’ he said.
In a statement, Whiting and Hussey added: ‘We waited going on 55 years for justice. I guess we’ll have to wait longer.’