Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey embrace one another as the star crossed lovers in the 1968 film 'Romeo and Juliet'

‘Romeo and Juliet’ Stars Sue Paramount for Being Coerced Into Filming Underage, Nude Sex Scene

We've all had questions about it.

The entertainment industry has made plenty of perplexing decisions over the years. Harvey Weinstein was allowed to continue working in Hollywood when, by all accounts, many in the industry knew of his sexual abuse. And why do we keep letting Mel Gibson star in movies? And how are Bill Cosby and Louis C.K. still going on comedy tours?

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One thing that has bothered me since I was a freshman in high school is how the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet was made. If you’re unfamiliar, the film features the full-frontal nudity of Romeo and Juliet, played by Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. When they filmed Romeo and Juliet, Whiting was 16 and Hussey was only 15. Now, both in their 70s, the pair are suing Paramount Pictures for coercing them into filming the infamous sex scene many of us saw in high school.

Questions of consent

Hussey and Whiting filed a claim against the studio behind Romeo and Juliet for sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and fraud. Both actors allege that the film’s director, Franco Zeffirelli, assured them they would be wearing flesh-colored underwear during the intimate scene. However, when they filmed the scene, Zeffirelli allegedly told the child actors they would wear makeup only and the camera wouldn’t record any of their nudity. The actors claim Zeffirelli told them the movie and their careers would fail if they didn’t do the scene as he instructed. The final product fully showed Whiting’s naked butt and Hussey’s breasts. In the suit, Hussey and Whiting state they have suffered emotional and mental damages since the film’s release and have never benefited from its success.

During a 2018 interview with Variety, Hussey seemed to defend the director and the underage nudity in the film. It’s interesting because Hussey talks about how innocent and young they were during the casting and filming process, while claiming to be mature enough to know that Zeffirelli was going to shoot the scene tastefully and that “it was needed for the film.”

After its initial theatrical release, Romeo and Juliet found a home on VHS in freshman English classes as part of the curriculum on Shakespeare. Entire generations of ninth graders have watched this take on the classic play. Overall, I thought the movie was fine and the nudity wasn’t an issue for me, but the ages of the actors were—and are—concerning. My English teacher said the film was the most accurate version because the actors were about the same age as the characters they played. (And sorry, but Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes star in the most accurate version of Romeo and Juliet.) I remember having long conversations with my best friend about how people our age were able to give consent to being filmed nude. Maybe their parents gave consent? That also seems like a weird choice. Now I know it all boiled down to a choice made by the guy who directed the movie and was allowed to have agency over two teens.

(featured image: Paramount Pictures)


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Author
D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.