Franco Zeffirelli’s Son Criticizes ‘Romeo & Juliet’ Lawsuit: “Far From Pornographic”

Franco Zeffirelli’s son has defended the filmmaker over the nude scene in his 1968 adaptation of Romeo & Juliet after the stars of the movie filed a lawsuit against Paramount Pictures for over $500 million, claiming sexual abuse, sexual harassment and fraud.

Last week, Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whitney, who were both minors at the time of production, claimed they were coerced into filming a nude scene for Zeffirelli’s film after being told they would be wearing “flesh-colored undergarments” during filming.

Pippo, Zeffirelli’s adopted son, has now come to his father’s defense, calling the scene “far from pornographic” in a statement shared with The Guardian.

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

His son continued, “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.”

Per The Associated Press, Hussey and Whitney both claim they experienced emotional distress from their time working with Zeffirelli and shooting the scene, which revealed their bare buttocks and breasts.

The actors allege they were told on the day of filming that they would only be wearing body makeup during the shoot and would not be shown nude on screen. The two claim they were “filmed in the nude without their knowledge” and their careers were threatened to ensure their compliance.

Tony Marinozzi, business manager for both actors, said, “What they were told and what went on were two different things. They trusted Franco. At 16, as actors, they took his lead that he would not violate that trust they had.”

In a 2018 interview with Variety, Hussey said that the scene in question was filmed respectfully. She said at the time, “Nobody my age had done that before. It was needed for the film.” However, it is common for people to delay coming forward with claims of sexual misconduct out of fear of repercussion and personal distress.

This lawsuit is not the first time Zeffirelli has been accused of sexual misconduct. After Zeffirelli’s death in 2019, The Hollywood Reporter outlined previous allegations against the filmmaker and interviewed two actors who had accused him of sexual misconduct.

Bruce Robinson, who played Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet, claimed that he was the target of unwanted advances by Zeffirelli, later saying that the character of Uncle Monty — a wealthy older man who repeatedly and aggressively tries to initiate sex with an uninterested individual in his 1987 movie Withnail and I — was inspired by the filmmaker’s behavior.

Actors Johnathon Schaech and Justin Vetrano alleged Zeffirelli sexually harassed them, with the latter stating that the occurrence led him to quit acting.

“When I pushed him away he said I was nobody. I would never be a true artist. As a young actor, I believed what he told me,” he said. When THR reached Pippo Zeffielli for comment, he said, “It’s not a moment to talk about this. It’s not the right time.”

In the interviews, both men went on to express the long-term effects of the alleged harassment.

“My moment with Franco Zeffirelli changed the trajectory of my entire life,” Ventrano said.

If you or someone you know needs to reach out about sexual abuse or assault, RAINN is available 24/7 at 800-656-HOPE (4673), or online at RAINN.org.

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