I have loved the 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet. I think it is the best version of the Shakespeare story on film. When I heard that the lead actors were suing the studio over the controversial bedroom scene, I was shocked. After reading the details, I understand why.
The bedroom scene was on the last day of filming, and the actors were lied to—lead to believe they wouldn’t have to be nude originally, then told they had to by the director. Olivia Hussey who played Juliet was 15, and Leonard Whiting who played Romeo was 16.
I am shocked making nude film of minors was even legal. But there are plenty of reasons why they didn’t speak up at the time. They were both unknowns, and just at the start of their careers. Fear of retaliation for speaking out was not unwarranted. They were children who probably had a hard time standing up to adults around them. I doubt there was a way to report sexual harassment back then.
By today’s standards, the bedroom scene is not shocking. It shows Hussey’s bare breasts for a brief moment and Whiting’s buttock. But that doesn’t change that it was children being filmed under false pretenses. I would be upset about two adults being treated the way they were.
The director’s son’s response is a textbook example of missing the point. He argues that the scene was not pornographic. Which is true. But that doesn’t change the facts of how it was filmed. It also isn’t an essential part of the movie. The specific shots could be edited out (and I think there is an edited version out there) without the story being changed. The scene could have been filmed to imply nudity without actually showing the bare bits.
But the justification that it is ok to lie to children to film a nude sequence just because it is good art is disturbing. While technically the actors were older than the age of the characters in the play, historical dramas always make changes to historical facts for a modern audience. Teenagers are way overly sexualized in our media, and people forget they are still children in the modern age. Even if the actors had agreed to it, it still would have been wrong because it wasn’t a decision they understood the consequences of until it was too late.
I in general dislike it when directors lie to their actors for a scene. I can see letting someone be startled, or there being practical jokes on set to lighten tension because I suspect shoots get very grueling. But if a director thinks they have to lie to their actors to get the reaction they are looking for, that means the director does not trust their actors ability to act. If the director doesn’t think the actors can get in character and act the scene, why did they hire them? There also have been times that the excuse “getting a genuine reaction” has justified some very abusive behavior.
Hollywood maybe a dream for so many, but it is also a business. I applaud the expanded use of intimacy coordinators, someone on set whose job it is to work with actors and directors when filming intimate scenes and ensuring the actors well-being. While sex and nudity do have its place in art, there should always be transparency and actors should be able to back out. If people are working and being paid, they should expect a professional set with professional boundaries.
Lawsuits can be useful in forcing corporations to change their practices. If this lawsuit forces more transparency within studios over nude scenes, and everyone filmed to be an adult, that would be a step forward. No more children should be coerced into nude scenes, and no more adults as well.