Featured Image
Now-deceased Hollywood director Franco ZeffirelliStefano Chiacchiarini '74 / Shutterstock

(LifeSiteNews) — The stars of the 1968 blockbuster Romeo and Juliet, which earned director Franco Zeffirelli an Academy Award nomination for best director, are suing Paramount Pictures for damages “believed to be in excess of $500 million.”

According to Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting — now aged 71 and 72, respectively — Zeffirelli’s actions on set constituted sexual harassment, fraud, abuse, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The lawsuit has been filed in Santa Monica Superior Court. 

Hussey and Whiting were just 15 and 16 years old when they were told, on the very last day of filming, that the movie they’d been hired to star in “would fail” if they refused to perform a nude scene — after being promised by the director that no such scenes would be required.

When pushed, however, they assumed they had no choice in the matter. Still, the actors allege that the director assured them that the camera would be placed strategically and that no actual nudity would be recorded or released. Hussey and Whiting are claiming they were recorded without their knowledge. 

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

Solomon Gresen, the actors’ attorney, concurred: “[They] were very young naïve children in the ‘60s who had no understanding of what was about to hit them. All of a sudden they were famous at a level they never expected, and in addition they were violated in a way they didn’t know how to deal with.” 

Zeffirelli died in 2019 at the age of 96, but the actors are taking advantage of the fact that a California law recently — temporarily — suspended the statue of limitations for cases dealing with the sexual abuse of children. The non-consensual filming, they allege, caused them both physical and emotional pain. $500 million is what the critically acclaimed film has earned since its release. 

This lawsuit, it must be noted, is only the most recent example of actors and (more often) actresses revealing what actually goes on behind the scenes during the production of movies. When famed director Bernardo Bertolucci died in 2018, it reignited a discussion around his 1972 film Last Tango in Paris, in which Marlon Brando’s character forcibly sodomizes the character of Maria Schneider, using a stick of butter as lubricant. Brando was 48 at the time. Schneider was 19. The scene wasn’t initially in the script, and Schneider hadn’t agreed to it — Bertolucci and Brando only told her about it just before the scene was shot. 

What followed was a genuine sexual humiliation, in which Brando hit Schneider and simulated a rape. “I was so angry,” she recounted later. “I felt humiliated and to be honest, I felt a little raped, both by Marlon and by Bertolucci… People thought I was like the girl in the movie, but that wasn’t me. I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol — I wanted to be recognized as an actress and the whole scandal and aftermath of the film turned me a little crazy and I had a breakdown.”

She began to abuse drugs and eventually attempted suicide. She never acted again. In response to criticism, Bertolucci insisted that it was necessary to humiliate her in order to make his film. 

More recently, something similar happened with the wildly popular show Game of Thrones. In the very first episode of the show, Emilia Clarke’s character was brutally raped by Jason Momoa’s character, and Clarke told Dax Shepard on the Armchair Expert podcast she was unaware of the “terrifying” nude scenes that would be expected of her on the show. At the time, she was only 23 years old. 

“I took the job and then they sent me the scripts and I was reading them and I was like, ‘Oh, there’s the catch,” she recalled. “But I’d come fresh from drama school and I approached it as a job: if it’s in the script then it’s clearly needed. This is what this is and I’m going to make sense of it and that’s what I’m going to do and everything’s going to be cool…I’ve never been on a film set like this before…and now I’m on a film set completely naked with all of these people, and I don’t know what I’m meant to do, and I don’t know what’s expected of me, and I don’t know what you want, and I don’t know what I want…Regardless of there being nudity or not, I would have spent that first season thinking I’m not worthy of requiring anything. I’m not worthy of needing anything at all.” 

In fact, she says, doing nude scenes was so awful that she drank vodka and cried to get through it, noting that, “Whatever I’m feeling is wrong, I’m gonna cry in the bathroom and then I’m gonna come back and we’re gonna do the scene and it’s gonna be completely fine.”

The co-star who played her husband, Jason Momoa, also had a hard time with the scenes, especially considering Clarke’s obvious discomfort with it all. The first rape scene that ran on Game of Thrones, featured on the very first episode, was awful. “He was crying more than I was,” Clarke recalled. When she pushed back on doing nude scenes in later projects, however, the producers tried to strongarm her: “You don’t wanna disappoint your Game of Thrones fans.” 

This latest lawsuit, in other words, is nothing new. It is simply the way that Hollywood does business — while lecturing the rest of us on morality and tolerance.  

Featured Image

Jonathon Van Maren is a public speaker, writer, and pro-life activist. His commentary has been translated into more than eight languages and published widely online as well as print newspapers such as the Jewish Independent, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and others. He has received an award for combating anti-Semitism in print from the Jewish organization B’nai Brith. His commentary has been featured on CTV Primetime, Global News, EWTN, and the CBC as well as dozens of radio stations and news outlets in Canada and the United States.

He speaks on a wide variety of cultural topics across North America at universities, high schools, churches, and other functions. Some of these topics include abortion, pornography, the Sexual Revolution, and euthanasia. Jonathon holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in history from Simon Fraser University, and is the communications director for the Canadian Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform.

Jonathon’s first book, The Culture War, was released in 2016.