The two lead stars of Hollywood’s 1968 film, Romeo & Juliet, sued Paramount Pictures for more than $500 million on January 3, 2023 over a nude scene in the film shot more than 50 years ago when they were teens. Olivia Hussey, then 15 and now 71, and Leonard Whiting, then 16 and now 72, filed the suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleging sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud.

According to the suit, director Franco Zeffirelli, who died in 2019, initially told the two that they would wear flesh-coloured undergarments in the bedroom scene that comes late in the film and was shot almost when the shooting was being wrapped.

But, according to the suit, on the morning of the shooting, Zeffirelli told Whiting (who played Romeo) and Hussey (Juliet) that they would wear only body make-up. He is said to have assured them that the camera would be positioned in a way that it would not show nudity. Yet, the two alleged in the suit, they were filmed in the nude without their knowledge, in violation of California and federal laws against indecency and exploitation of children. The film’s lead pair has further alleged that Zeffirelli told them, they must act in the nude “or the picture would fail” and their careers would be hurt. The actors said, they “believed, they had no choice but to act in the nude in body make-up, as demanded”. Whiting’s bare buttocks and Hussey’s bare breasts are briefly shown in the scene.

The court filing said that Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting have suffered emotional damage and mental anguish for decades as the film was a major hit and had been shown to generations of high school students studying Shakespeare’s play since. It added that each of the actors had careers that did not reflect the success of Romeo & Juliet. The suit explained that given their sufferings and the revenue earned by the film over the years, the actors were entitled to damages of over $500 million.

The lawsuit was fled under a California law temporarily suspending the statute of limitations for child sex abuse.