Illustration by Nikki Muller
There’s no stopping the rise of “nepo babies”—and 2023 is well and truly their year.
The latest child of someone famous to prove this point is Destry Spielberg. Steven Spielberg’s filmmaker daughter has just been hired to direct an action movie from the producers of the John Wick franchise.
Four Assassins (And A Funeral) will be her feature film directing debut, and it comes on the back of a short film she made with some friends who also have famous folks called Let Me Go The Right Way. This short has a reputation as the ultimate nepo baby production, as it starred Sean Penn’s son, Hopper, and was written by Stephen King’s son, Owen.
Yet she is just one of many up-and-coming talents now getting prized jobs who find themselves at the center of a Gen Z-fueled internet storm about children of the famous getting ahead in Hollywood, thanks to the name value and connections of their parents.
Michael Jackson’s nephew Jaafar Jackson is facing much of the same, having landed the role of the King of Pop in the recently announced biopic, Michael. And talking of biopics, Ang Lee is to direct one about Bruce Lee, and has stirred up controversy by casting his own son, Mason Lee, as the martial arts icon.
This “keep it in the family” trend has been around Tinseltown forever, but the TikTok generation only recently discovered it, and frequently claim that nepo babies are denying opportunities to talented people who don’t have a celebrity leg up into the industry. Among those in the firing line have been Dakota Johnson (daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson), Zoe Kravitz (daughter of Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz), and Maya Hawke (daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke).
Personally, I don’t see a problem with it—and here’s why.
In a suddenly risk-averse film industry that’s currently obsessed with reboots, remakes, and safe bets, having a famous name in the credits can help put more eyes on a project in the crowded marketplace.
Plus, truly great talent will always find its way to the top with or without the right connections. I give examples of that in Total Hollywood, the New Thinking podcast I co-host with Zorianna Kit. In episode five, we identify five breakthrough stars who have hit it big without the benefit of having parents who were movie stars or directors.
Our fab five are Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Paul Mescal, Florence Pugh, and Anya Taylor-Joy. Credit to them for getting to the top, staying there, and proving that Hollywood can be a meritocracy after all.
Yet the nepo baby argument continues, and no wonder, given the ill-advised comments by various offspring of the stars which have only served to add fuel to the flames.
There was Lily-Rose Depp who, after making her film acting debut alongside her dad Johnny Depp and landing a modeling contract with Chanel—which has a long relationship with her mother Vanessa Paradis—told Elle that “it doesn’t make any sense” for people to assume she got to where she is through family connections.
Next, Gwyneth Paltrow failed to evoke much sympathy by complaining that her path to stardom as the daughter of actress Blythe Danner and director Bruce Paltrow was not easy, and did so in an interview with Justin Bieber’s wife Hailey Bieber, who has her own firsthand experience with privilege coming from the Baldwin family acting dynasty.
A far better worded argument on nepo babies was made by film star Jamie Lee Curtis, the daughter of Oscar nominees Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, who just landed her first-ever Oscar nomination for Everything Everywhere All At Once.
She recently posted on Instagram: “The current conversation about nepo babies is just designed to try to diminish and denigrate and hurt. There are many of us. Dedicated to our craft. Proud of our lineage. Strong in our belief in our right to exist.”
Nepotism isn’t unique to the entertainment industry. There’s lots of it in politics, too—just ask George W. Bush, Justin Trudeau, or the entire Kennedy family. In many other walks of life, kids follow their parents into the family business.
The way I see it, showbiz is like sport. There are plenty of talented people who can score a goal, you first just need someone to pass you the ball. Opportunities may come more easily for children of the famous, but it’s how you take that opportunity that counts—and that’s true of anybody. Family connections can get you in the ground floor, but it’s proving you have talent that gets you to the top.