The son of the director of Romeo and Juliet has called the child-abuse lawsuit filed over the 1968 film’s nude scene “embarrassing.” Actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting, who were 15 and 16 when the film was shot, recently sued Paramount for sexual exploitation and child abuse. According to a Variety report, the actors specifically alleged that late director Franco Zeffirelli pressured them to perform nude and used nude footage of them in the final cut that was shot without their knowledge or consent. “It is embarrassing to hear that today, 55 years after filming, two elderly actors who owe their notoriety essentially to this film wake up to declare that they have suffered an abuse that has caused them years of anxiety and emotional discomfort,” Franco’s son Pippo Zeffirelli responded in a statement to The Guardian, adding that the nude scene in question was “far from pornographic.” He also said that he believed the actors’ parents had provided consent forms to producers on the film.
Pippo, who is the president of the Franco Zeffirelli Foundation, said that his father had a history of speaking out against pornography. He further noted that Hussey worked with his father again in 1977, while Whiting was among the attendees at his father’s 2019 funeral. “It appears to me that in all these years, they have always maintained a relationship of deep gratitude and friendship towards Zeffirelli, releasing hundreds of interviews about the happy memory of their very fortunate experience, which was crowned with worldwide success,” Pippo said. Hussey and Whiting are reportedly seeking damages of more than $500 million on the grounds that they lost job opportunities and suffered mental and emotional distress in the years since Romeo and Juliet’s release. “Nude images of minors are unlawful and shouldn’t be exhibited,” the actors’ attorney, Solomon Gresen, told Variety. “These were very young naïve children in the ’60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them.”