Nepotism isn’t new; it’s a concept that has existed for hundreds of years and dates back to the papacy of Sixtus IV, a pope who became infamous for granting favors to his relatives. Today, it plays a part in everything, from college admissions to getting that executive position to breaking into new industries.
In Hollywood, nepotism most often occurs in the form of familial fame, money, or industry connections; many of Hollywood’s top stars have used their family’s generational resources to help their careers flourish and thrive from not-so-humble beginnings.
What is a nepo baby?
For many years, nobody had an issue with it – or at least, nobody seemed to really know about it. However, in 2022, TikTok and other social media users ran the term nepo baby into the ground; people were getting “exposed” right and left for their family’s backstage help in landing them leading roles in films, getting them onto the runway, or breaking into the music industry.
But what really defines a nepo baby? Nepotism is formally defined as favoritism based on kinship. When people today talk about it, they’re referring to those who have used the fame or influence of their families, usually their parents, to secure their own success. Think Kylie Jenner who shot to fame through her family’s reality TV show or Gigi Hadid who started modeling for Baby Guess at age two. The term tends to have negative connotations, especially among younger generations, mostly because it implies an unfair advantage given to those who were lucky enough to be born into well-off families.
Celebrities you may (or may not) have known were nepo babies
Nepo babies can be found in every walk of Hollywood life. Take Maya Hawke for example; born to actors Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, acting is essentially in her blood and she quickly became a fan-favorite after her debut in Stranger Things. Or Maude Apatow aka Lexi from Euphoria, daughter of actor Leslie Mann and director Judd Apatow, who himself is a nepo baby of record producer Bob Shad. Even renowned actress Dakota Johnson descends from actors Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith.
While the acting industry is flush with nepo babies, we can’t forget those models dominating the catwalk who were hard-launched into success by their families. Kendall Jenner, Lily-Rose Depp, and Hailey Bieber (formerly Hailey Baldwin) are just a few of the top models who come from families just as well-known as the brands they’re walking for.
Does money buy talent?
You’ve probably heard all those names before, but why? Simply put, many of them have made a name for themselves outside of their family’s fame. Maya Hawke’s performance as Robin in Stranger Things secured her the award for Best Supporting Actress in Streaming Presentation at the 45th Saturn Awards. Dakota Johnson’s list of awards and nominations has its own Wikipedia page. Even if they were given a leg-up by their well-off families, you’d be hard-pressed to deny that they are talented in their own right. They’ve proved that money can’t always buy talent.
Of course, that’s not to say every nepo baby has been able to beat the “spoiled rich kid” stereotype and prove the naysayers wrong. In a 2022 BuzzFeed poll, voters were asked to decide if a list of nepo babies deserved their fame or not. The first celebrity on the chopping block was Kendall Jenner, who, despite consistently appearing on Forbes highest-paid models list, received a staggering 296.9K votes saying her fame was undeserved.
The same goes for Hailey Bieber; 299.4K people cast their vote and said she was “not at all” deserving of her success. Not to say these women aren’t talented but people clearly believe their fame is a result of family resources rather than talent. In these cases, it’s easy to become resentful of nepo babies who seem to have everything handed to them on a silver platter. It just seems unfair, especially to those who are in the opposite situation.
But, at the end of the day, Hollywood is hardly a fair industry and the disparity caused by generational resources shows that industry equity is often unfairly distributed. It prompts the question; would these less talented nepo babies be where they are today if they didn’t come from a background of wealth and power? The simplest answer is probably not. Although money can’t buy talent, it can certainly buy opportunities.
So, where does this leave us? Are nepo babies bad? Should they not exist? Well, no. Nepo babies aren’t inherently bad. They didn’t ask to be born into a wealthy family and it’d be unfair to fault them for that. To say they shouldn’t exist would also place you in a morally grey predicament; are you then implying well-off families can’t have children and that said children can’t pursue creative occupations? It would be unfathomable to truly take up that stance.
Personally, I take a middle-ground approach to this issue. Nepo babies aren’t inherently bad and they shouldn’t be shamed for taking advantage of the opportunities made available to them, but this privilege should also be addressed. It’s usually when they refuse to acknowledge their place of privilege that they face backlash. In an interview with Elle, Lily-Rose Depp commented that “It’s weird to me to reduce somebody to the idea that they’re only there because it’s a generational thing. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Many took this as a blatant dismissal of her privilege. Even some of her celebrity peers, like Vittoria Ceretti, reprimanded her for it.
“I can’t stand listening to you compare yourself to me.” said the model on her Instagram story.
Privilege isn’t a necessarily bad thing, and to be born into it is an incredible opportunity, especially for those who want to make it big in Hollywood. Despite my disagreement with her previous comment, Depp is right to say, “Maybe you get your foot in the door, but you still just have your foot in the door.” Money can buy opportunities, but most of the time, only work will turn those opportunities into a career that people respect. It may be worth noting that you’d have to dig deep to find stories of truly “untalented” nepo babies. Maybe because even with all the money in the world, you still can’t buy talent.