We’ve all heard the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” with regard to job searching, but for Hollywood’s nepotism babies this really is the case. It seems that a new generation is discovering that their favourite actors are the children of former Hollywood stars, and it has brought about strong feelings. With a TikTok hashtag garnering 9.6 million views and the conversation taking centre stage (pun intended!) in pop culture talks, could this be a reckoning for some celebs or just more press for them to gain popularity?
Before we delve deeper into the world of famous Hollywood families, what exactly is a nepotism baby? Glamour magazine defines ‘nepotism babies’ or ‘nepo babies’ as “the children of celebrities who are following in the (well-trodden) footsteps of their parents and pursuing careers in the spotlight.”
However, the term has since become more complex than that. A comment on a Reddit thread on the sub-reddit r/Deuxmois explains that there are three “levels” of nepotism babies. There are those who are the “child of wealth” which technically isn’t nepotism, but they have enough money to try and fail in the showbiz industry even if they don’t have the connections.
Then there is the “child of working artists” (Kate Winslet or Will Ferrell are examples of this) who have minimal connections – enough to get some exposure – even though their “industry pull” and “financial resources” are “limited”. Finally, there are the big nepotism babies: the “child of wealthy entertainment industry folks” who have parents with serious money and industry pull. Their “lineage” provides an automatic selling point for projects as the nepo babies come with built-in publicity due to their parents’ fame.
There is a seemingly infinite number of actors loved by Gen-Z who they have since found out are nepotism babies including Zoë Kravitz, Dakota Johnson, Timothée Chalamet, Lily Rose Depp, Maya Hawke, Sofia Coppola and Maude Apatow. A New York Times article argues that this is simply “how power works in Hollywood” but for this generation, it is news that their favourite celebrities have “benefited from a system that is not strictly meritocratic.”
This would make sense as the household names of George Clooney, Liza Minelli, Drew Barrymore, and Gwyneth Paltrow are also nepotism babies. It seems Gen-Z have either forgotten about this fact or were never aware of their privilege in the first place.
Perhaps most interestingly however is the range of views that people have of nepotism babies: from derision to surprise, envy, and admiration. Some people are jealous of the freedom and opportunities that they have since, as one Twitter user put it: “All nepotism babies go thru several phases. 1-failed photography career 2-failed modeling career 3-failed music career 4-failed acting career” which is obviously not possible for the vast majority of people who need to earn money.
Some people only criticise that Hollywood has no fresh faces showcasing talent anymore. Most people seem to be looking for nepotism babies to own up to their privilege. ELLE magazine writes that “privilege is impossible to eradicate… Like any privilege, the presence of it does not mean you do not work hard or do not face other challenges, but it does mean that your life is easier than those without the same privilege.”
The nepotism babies who are trending across the Internet and have been dubbed as people’s ‘favourite’ nepo babies are usually those who actually have talent and have owned up to their privilege. For example, Euphoria actress Maude Apatow (daughter of actress Leslie Mann and filmmaker Judd Apatow) was a fan-favourite in the show’s second season but later said in an interview, after being criticised for being a nepo baby, that she will spend her “whole life trying to prove myself as an individual… It’s really important to me to show that I work really hard because I do. I want to be an individual.”
On the flip side, you have huge Hollywood stars like Jamie Lee Curtis (daughter of Psycho’s Janet Leigh) who owns her privilege as a nepotism baby and doesn’t shy away from it. In an interview printed in The New Yorker, she said “I’ve never really worked hard a day in my life… I’m never going to pretend that I just got that on my own, like I’m just a little girl from nowhere getting it. Clearly, I had a leg up.” She added that being a nepotism baby means “you get this incredible access, you get opportunities to see things that other people don’t get to see, you get ease of access everywhere you go.”
Connections are your bread and butter of making it big in Hollywood: they are “more valuable than having money”. If you know a director who can cast you in a movie or a fellow actor who can put in a good word for you then you’ve got your big break without slogging around London or New York going to audition after audition after audition. Of course, there are plenty of nepotism babies who are talented actors (hence why they’re ‘good’ or ‘favourite’ nepo babies) such as Dakota Johnson who has a People’s Choice Award, and Timothée Chalamet who has been nominated for Academy, Golden Globe and BAFTA Awards.
TikTok has been the platform with the most to say about nepotism babies with some videos explaining their inherent privilege of having an informal showbiz education from their parents and their endless chances to try and fail, whilst others have been pitting celebrities against each other for what they have to say about their nepotistic privileges like Jennifer Aniston and Angelina Jolie. A lot of the videos are just aesthetic edits on aforementioned ‘favourite’ nepo babies, but some are highly critical about them with titles such as “nepotism contributes nothing but mediocrity” and the blame falling on Western society itself.
It seems that the crux of the matter is not simply that these stars have been born into wealthy and privileged families in the industry, but rather whether or not they own up to this advantage. Those who admit that they are privileged to be successful because of their backgrounds and who are nonetheless talented are held in high esteem by audiences.
However, those who pretend that they would have made it despite the leg-up provided by their families and who vocally denounce their privilege seem to run the risk of being added to the ever-growing list of ‘cancelled’ celebrities. Could this be a cautionary tale to future generations of nepotism babies like Gigi Hadid or Rihanna’s children? Or is it a newfound admiration for the already established nepotistic footing of Hollywood? Perhaps we’ll never find out, but one thing is for certain: being a nepotism baby would certainly make being a drama student easier!