Child Stars Accuse Studio Of Sexual Exploitation Of Minors In Iconic Adaptation Of ‘Romeo And Juliet’

(Photo credit should read CHRIS DELMAS/AFP via Getty Images)

Gretchen Clayson Contributor
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Two former child stars filed a lawsuit against Paramount Friday accusing the studio of “sexually exploiting them” and circulating nude images of minors.

Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey played the iconic roles of Romeo and Juliet respectively in Franco Zeffirelli’s film of the same name in 1968. At the time, the two actors were only teenagers but were forced, the lawsuit alleges, to perform a bedroom scene in the nude, Variety reported

Both actors were allegedly assured that there would be no nudity in the movie and that the scene in question would be performed with flesh-colored undergarments. In the last days of filming, Zeffirelli allegedly changed his mind and asked for the scene to be performed in the nude with body makeup, “or the Picture would fail,” according to Variety.

In the scene, Hussey’s bare breasts are exposed as well as Whiting’s bare buttocks, something the lawsuit alleges has caused both actors “mental anguish and emotional distress” since the film’s release 55 years ago.

“What they were told and what went on were two different things. They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had. Franco was their friend, and frankly, at 16, what do they do? There are no options. There was no #MeToo,” Tony Marinozzi, a business manager for both actors, said, according to Variety.

This sentiment was echoed by the actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen, who argued that the actors were young and naive and had “no understanding of what was about to hit them.” Gresen added that the two actors were “violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with.”

Hussey previously told Variety in 2018 that Zeffirelli shot the scene “tastefully.”

“Nobody my age had done that before. It was needed for the film,” she added, according to the outlet.

She further defended the scene with Fox News in 2018.

“In America, it was very taboo. But in Europe a lot of the films had nudity. Nobody really thought much of it. 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,” she explained. (RELATED: Ana De Armas Fears Her Nude Scenes In ‘Blonde’ Will Go Megaviral)

Hussey also told the outlet that by the time they shot the scene towards the end of filming they were “a big family” so the scene “wasn’t that big of a deal.”

“In the middle of shooting, I just completely forgot I didn’t have clothes on,” she told Fox News.

Hussey and Whiting are seeking over $500 million in damages.