Home Entertainment Son of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ director Zeffirelli slams lawsuit

Son of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ director Zeffirelli slams lawsuit

Son of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ director Zeffirelli slams lawsuit

The son of “Romeo and Juliet” director Franco Zeffirelli has responded to a child sexual abuse lawsuit recently submitted in Los Angeles County by the film’s stars, Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey.

Pippo Zeffirelli — who also serves as president of the Franco Zeffirelli Foundation — called the case brought against Paramount Pictures and allegations leveled against his late father “embarrassing” in a Friday statement to the Guardian. Franco Zeffirelli died at age 96 in 2019.

“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,” Pippo Zeffirelli said.

“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.”

Whiting, who played Romeo Montague when he was 16, and Hussey, who played Juliet Capulet when she was 15, are suing Paramount, accusing the studio of sexual harassment and child sexual abuse over the 1968 film’s controversial nude scene: a bedroom sequence in which Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts are visible.

Whiting and Hussey allege in their complaint that Zeffirelli coerced them to perform nude in the bedroom scene despite previously assuring them “there would be no nudity filmed or exhibited.” The romantic leads, now in their early 70s, say the filmmaker told them that “they must act in the nude or the Picture would fail” and warned them that “they would never work again in any profession, let alone Hollywood,” if they didn’t comply.

The lawsuit states that the child actors were allegedly covered with nude body makeup and “believed they had no choice but to act in the nude … as demanded.” By releasing the movie, Paramount then distributed “what is essentially pornography and evidence of a crime … for profit,” the complaint alleges.

A representative for the plaintiffs did not immediately respond Sunday to the Los Angeles Times’ request for comment.

On Friday, Pippo Zeffirelli defended his father and argued that the nude scene is “far from pornographic.” He also said he believed “Romeo and Juliet” producers John Brabourne and Anthony Havelock-Allan obtained consent forms at the time from the actors’ parents.

“Zeffirelli himself was accused of being reactionary precisely because, over and over again, he spoke out against pornography,” Pippo Zeffirelli told the Guardian.

“The nude images in the film express the beauty, the transfer, I would even say the candour of mutual giving and do not contain any morbid feeling.”

Whiting and Hussey are seeking more than $500 million in damages for alleged physical, mental and emotional distress, as well as “a lifetime loss” of earnings, employment benefits and job opportunities.

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