What Does This Awkward Red Carpet Appearance Say About the Future of Rom-Coms?

Reese Witherspoon and Ashton Kutcher will star alongside each other in an upcoming romantic comedy to be released on Netflix this February. However, despite playing love interests in the film, the chemistry between co-stars appears to be lacking in real life.

On February 2nd, Witherspoon and Kutcher were photographed together on the red carpet premiere of their new rom-com, Your Place or Mine? The resulting photographs, featuring the stars’ laughably awkward posture, quickly captured the internet’s attention and spread like wildfire via social media sharing.

Some poked fun at their posing, claiming that the pair looked like “divorced parents at their kid’s graduation” and “siblings forced by their mom to take a photo.” Others went as far as to declare the photos evidence that the stars don’t like each other, speculating that it’s “one of those ‘they actually despised each other’ castings.”

According to Variety, Mila Kunis, fellow actress, and Kutcher’s wife, joined in on the teasing by jokingly telling the stars they “look[ed] so awkward on the red carpet together.”

Regardless of how they actually feel about each other, this awkward red carpet appearance does nothing to inspire confidence that Witherspoon and Kutcher share the physical chemistry expected of two stars playing love interests in a romantic comedy.

This is neither of the actors’ first time appearing in a rom-com. In fact, Witherspoon and Kutcher dominated the romantic comedy genre in the 2000s. Witherspoon is known for her performances in Legally Blonde (2001), Sweet Home Alabama (2002), and Just Like Heaven (2005) in the early 2000s. Kutcher made his best contributions to the genre in the latter half of the decade with What Happens in Vegas (2008), Valentine’s Day (2010), and No Strings Attached (2011).

Despite both possessing considerable experience starring as leads in successful rom-coms, the actors still don’t seem to click with each other.

This lack of chemistry between costars in a rom-com—which has mustered up very little traction outside of the virality of the red carpet photos—attests to the fact that the few rom-coms of today fail to measure up to the rom-coms of the past. Romantic comedies, at the height of their popularity from the ’90s to the early ’10s, promised audiences humor, personality, and sizzling chemistry between costars. The majority of modern rom-coms, which are few and far between these days, are lacking in those departments.

It’s possible the genre has simply been played out. Maybe modern audiences are no longer interested in these types of romantic narratives.

Ideally, though, the romantic comedy genre will experience a revival. This reinvention would have to speak to the modern viewer by understanding contemporary courtship, transcending patriarchal nonsense in favor of feminist values, and achieving authentic relatability. Of course, it would also have to rekindle the charisma and attraction between costars that classic rom-com offered.

If the awkward red carpet appearance taught us anything, it’s that people want to see romantic leads with genuine chemistry more than anything else.

Who knows—Witherspoon and Kutcher may just showcase fantastic on-screen chemistry and help to revive the romantic comedy genre. If you want to find out how their performances stack up, Your Place or Mine? will be released for streaming on February 10th, just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Colleen Benison

Colleen Benison


The Last of Us: How Bill and Frank’s story was redeemed

Recapping Episode 3 

The second episode of HBO’s The Last of Us left us reeling after the death of Tess and confirmation of Ellie’s immunity against the Cordyceps fungus. In the moments before she sacrificed herself, Tess tells Joel to get Ellie to Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett), who will be able to take care of the young girl. In Episode 3, we’re given a look into Bill and Frank’s backstory as Joel and Ellie begin their new journey to find them. The episode’s title, “One More Good Day”, hints at the sad ending to Bill and Frank’s otherwise heartwarming story. While they may not have gotten a traditional happily ever after, HBO does give the couple justice in light of their relatively underdeveloped story in the original game. We’re able to see the smaller but no less significant, parts of their relationship as well as the subversion of the “Bury Your Gays” trope.

The two first meet in 2007. Bill, prior to meeting Frank, was a paranoid doomsday prepper and the onslaught of an actual apocalypse only amplified his survivalist tendencies. He’s got everything he needs to survive, food, supplies, and even wine; the only thing he lacks is a purpose to continue living. Luckily enough, that purpose comes in the form of Frank having the misfortune (or maybe good luck?) to fall into one of the many booby traps Bill has set up around his house. Frank persuading Bill to let him into his home for a shower and some food marked the beginning of the end. 

We see the two men begin to form a bond over their shared love of food and music, namely Gary White’s Love, Long Time. The conversation turns to Bill’s attraction to men, which he says he never acted on. Frank assures him that they can start slow. It’s worth noting that in the original game, Frank is hinted at being Bill’s romantic partner, but it’s never explicitly confirmed as it is in the show. In the rest of the episode, the couple begins to take part in more domestic behaviors and they slip into a comfortable, almost normal life that is rare in their post-apocalyptic world. 

However, Bill is still fearful that he will somehow lose everything, and this paranoia is only made worse by the fact that he now has someone he cares about: Frank. Now that he has someone who encourages him to enjoy his life despite the catastrophe just outside their home, Bill is torn between reveling in domesticity or fighting to survive. 

His worst fears seem to personify themselves in the form of the unnamed illness that eventually cripples Frank. Now terminally ill, Frank asks his partner to assist in his suicide. Based on the earlier parts of the episode, it was clear to me that Bill would not live his life without Frank, stating that “…You [Frank] were my purpose.” My theory was unfortunately proven right when the couple both enjoy a final glass of wine laced with a lethal dose of painkillers. Their deaths are dignified and they go in peace in the comfort of their own home. By the time Joel and Ellie arrive, all they find is a letter from Bill that says Joel is free to take the rest of his supplies and to please not go into the bedroom and see their corpses. In a world where most people don’t get to die on their own terms, Bill and Frank’s deaths seem like their version of a happy ending.

How the show subverted the “Bury Your Gays” trope

When compared to their story in the video game, Bill and Frank’s mutual suicide was a much more fulfilling ending. In the original game lore, Joel and Ellie are able to get to Bill’s house and find him alive, but later realize that Frank has killed himself. Bill is reluctant to talk about the nature of their relationship and it’s clear the two had some unresolved conflict at the time of Frank’s suicide. As Joel and Ellie take their leave, Bill has left a bitter and broken man. We never see him in the game again.

Compare this to the way Bill and Frank are portrayed in the show; they are openly depicted as a gay couple and they go out on their own terms, having accepted their story is coming to an end. This episode did an amazing job at subverting the “Bury Your Gays” trope aka the view that LGBTQ+ characters are more expendable than their heteronormative counterparts. This usually leads to them being one of the first to die or suffer an otherwise unnecessarily gruesome death. This episode refrains from using any of those stereotypes; Bill and Frank’s story is portrayed in extreme detail and they are given more central roles when compared to their video game counterparts.

The couple is able to enjoy a domestic life and is not put through unnecessary or misplaced trauma. I also applaud this episode for not depicting them as victims. Bill and Frank were not implied to have died for some greater cause, they go out on their own terms rather than acting as a martyr or sacrifices. In fact, their deaths are the exact opposite of the “Bury Your Gays” trope; in Bill’s final letter to Joel, he asks him and Ellie to leave their decaying bodies alone and neither they nor the audience ever see them. The couple’s deaths are not gruesome nor violent; the ending of their story was sad but it fits well within the overarching plot of the show. In other words, they got to live out the full extent of their lives in peace and their deaths were not for nothing.

This episode gave Bill and Frank the redemption they deserved, especially considering their less-than-satisfactory ending in the original video game. Their story was a much-needed reprieve in a time when we’re seeing many queer characters die young or without reason. They may have still died in the end, but as Bill said, “This isn’t the tragic suicide at the end of the play. I’m old. I’m satisfied.”

Natalie Tachikabe

Natalie Tachikabe


48-Year-Old Leonardo DiCaprio Receives Backlash For Allegedly Dating 19-Year-Old Eden Polani

Leonardo DiCaprio, most famous for his roles in Titanic, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Revenant, and more, is also known for the fact he never dates women over the age of 25. Most recently, he has been facing backlash over allegedly dating 19-year-old model Eden Polani after the pair were pictured together at a party in Los Angeles. 

Daily Mail was the first to report the story that the two were dating, but it has since been revealed by a source close to Leo that he is not in a relationship at this time. TMZ also included that “just because Leo might be talking to or sitting with a girl doesn’t mean he’s dating her.”

Social media immediately blew up after the news broke. This includes Twitter posts about other celebrity pairings that have the same age gap. The Independent made a disturbing comparison between The Last of Us stars Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey, who have the same age gap as DiCaprio and Polani. Stranger Things actors David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown are also 29 years apart. This made the situation more creepy to many people, as Pascal and Harbour’s characters act as father figures to the girls. Another person on Twitter wrote, “Leonardo DiCaprio’s girlfriend is so young her high school experience was interrupted by COVID-19.” While another added, “Maybe @LeoDiCaprio is a climate advocate bc he wants a better future for his teenage girlfriends.”

Many TikTok videos also went viral, poking fun at the relationship by listing things that are older than DiCaprio’s alleged girlfriend. One video included things like 9/11, Shrek, and DiCaprio’s movie Titanic

While some were making light-hearted jokes about the situation, others were actually concerned about Leo’s preference for young women. According to Daily Mail, one Twitter user wrote “Someone please explain to me what a man nearing 50 has in common with *checks notes* a 19-year-old?” And another added, “What feels illegal but technically isn’t?”

While sources close to Leo have confirmed dating rumors to be untrue, according to The Cut, the actor does have a strange history of only dating women under the age of 26. In August of 2022, Insider posted a chart that detailed all of DiCaprio’s dating history, and it reveals that he will date his significant others beginning in their early 20s, and break up with them just after they turn 25. The chart highlights a specific pattern that occurred from 1999-2022 across 8 different girlfriends. The average age of all of his girlfriends is only 22. 

His most recent relationship with Argentine-American model Camila Morrone began when she was 20 and ended shortly after she turned 25. The same pattern occurred with his ex-girlfriends Bar Refaeli (20-25), and Nina Agdal (24-25). 

Despite the rumors of his recent relationship being denied, there is a strange pattern in which he refuses to date women the same age as him. While it might be legal, it is debatable on whether his behavior is morally right.

Katlynn Wheatley

Katlynn Wheatley


How Scooby-Doo Spinoff ‘Velma’ Became the Worst-Rated Animated Series Ever

Velma, the adult-oriented animated series based on the long-running and much-loved Scooby-Doo franchise, first premiered on HBO Max earlier this month. The spinoff was marketed as “an adult animated comedy series telling the origin story of Velma Dinkley, the unsung and underappreciated brains of the Scooby-Doo Mystery Inc. gang.”

A reboot of a classic piece of kid’s entertainment, catered towards its now-adult audience with mature humor and a strong cast of voice actors, sounds like it has the makings for a hit show. 

Unfortunately, Velma did not live up to its potential. 

With only 6 of the 10 scheduled episodes released so far, Velma has already gained notoriety. Since its release, the show has been under fire for infringing upon the legacy of a beloved childhood cartoon with lackluster reimaginations of iconic characters, socio-political dissonance, and bad jokes.

Velma has become the worst-rated animated television series in IMBd history, having received an average score of 1.3 out of 10 stars. According to Rotten Tomatoes, it received a 42% on the Tomatometer and a startlingly low 6% audience score. Viewers and critics alike have come to the consensus that the show is, put simply, not good.

So what went wrong?

The problem is that people view the show through the lens of nostalgia and compare it to every other entry in the Scooby-Doo canon, only to conclude that the show seems to be about Mystery Inc. in name only. According to Forbes, it is “so far removed from Scooby-Doo that viewers have speculated that the show might have been conceived as an original concept that had a popular IP slapped onto it at some point during production.” Velma’s deviation from its source material—demonstrated by poorly-written characterizations of the gang and the absence of the talking dog himself—serves only as an affront to expectant fans.

On top of what audiences perceive as a disrespectful divergence from the source material, the show’s attempts to be contemporary have angered both sides of the political spectrum. Conservative audiences attack the show as “too woke” for changing the races of established characters, but progressive audiences also denounce this diversity as forced and poorly written. Abusive language, nudity, and the sexualization of 15-year-old characters have also drawn criticism.

With adult humor falling flat as it’s forced upon an uninspired reinterpretation of the iconic franchise, Velma just doesn’t seem to understand its own intent let alone its audience.

Surprisingly, though, the potential for a successful reboot isn’t entirely wasted.

In spite of the initial backlash surrounding the reimagining of Velma as South Asian before the show even aired, people still tuned in—Velma was reportedly HBO Max’s biggest premiere of any original animated series. Even now, despite overwhelmingly negative reviews, people are still watching the show. It has more than maintained an audience, experiencing an unexpected, critic-defying increase in viewership that secured the ranking as the second most in-demand new show. This places Velma above even HBO’s The Last of Us, another popular television adaptation that, unlike Velma, has received universal praise from both viewers and critics.

It remains to be seen if and when audiences should prepare for another season of Velma. HBO Max has not yet made any official announcements regarding the future of the show, but with such high viewership, a season renewal wouldn’t be unexpected.

Colleen Benison

Colleen Benison


Teen Wolf: The Movie Reveals the Issue With Money Grab Reboots

The Teen Wolf movie was released on January 26, 2023, on Paramount +.

It left fans of the show either elated to have some of their favorite characters back or regretful for even wasting 2 hours and 20 minutes watching it.

The original show aired on MTV from 2011-2017 and followed Scott Mcall after he was bitten by a werewolf in his sophomore year of high school. For 6 seasons he is finding a balance between love, friendship, and his powers. It is most well known for its terrible CGI (especially in seasons 1 and 2) but also for its beloved character Stiles Stilinski, played by Dylan O’Brien.

According to reviewers, the movie basically rehashes the plot of season 3b. The second half of season 3 was the most loved by fans, “with an impressive audience rating of 9 out of 10. It sees Stiles becoming possessed by the nogitsune, essentially becoming evil” according to Screen Rant. This season also introduced the character Kira (Arden Cho), who’s a detrimental part of this plot as it revolves around her family history. She is also the one who is responsible for saving the day and killing the nogitsune. 

The movie aired almost 8 years after season 3b and 5 years after the last season. It consists of a 15-year time jump, in which the nogitsune comes back and possesses Mcall’s ex-girlfriend who died in season 3b. The main issue is that the plot is being reused without the two main characters of the season, Stiles and Kira.

Arden Cho decided she would not return to the Teen Wolf movie after mistreatment on set, which led her to be written off the show in 2016. When asked to return, it was reported that she would only receive half the salary of her male and female counterparts. She responded by saying “I think I was offered even less,” according to The Cut.

Dylan O’Brien also refused to return out of solidarity. He began liking posts on Twitter calling out the behavior of the producers, to which fans responded “Dylan O’Brien having Arden Cho’s back we love to see it, they deserve the world.”

The movie received terrible reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, with a 39% score from critics. Here are a few notable reviews: 

“Teen Wolf: The Movie lacks the fun, thrill, and high energy of the show that made it so popular in the first place, instead giving us a lifeless paint-by-numbers adventure that overstays its welcome.” – Joey Rambles

“The plot meanders, the exposition-heavy dialogue feels lazy, and no one has any freakin’ chemistry”. – Anna Menta

“It feels too much like an elongated TV episode of the show, never living up to the ‘movie’ label in its title. There’s solid fan service but offers little else.” – Ej Moreno

However, it seems like the fan service is what appealed to longtime fans of the show. Here are a few somewhat positive reviews:

“Perfect, but without Stiles, the film is a little bit poor, it shows that he is missing from the whole plot.” – Mara P.

 “Great movie – very nostalgic for us fans that needed something more from this amazing pack of actors. The only thing missing was the one & only Stiles! Wish we could get a new series out of this with the original cast!” – Ashley B. 

I thought the movie was great! Of course, there were a couple of flaws and a couple of things I would’ve liked to see, maybe even have a couple of characters who we haven’t seen in a while come back…” – Cristian G. 

This is a glaring issue that all reboots seem to have. Producers are stuck between bringing back what the fans love while continuing the plot. The Teen Wolf movie is not alone in this, as many critics believe reboots in general are terrible.

The Wrap even made a list of the 23 worst reboots in television history.

This includes shows like Dynasty which “drew critical pans and weak ratings — that were still lucrative enough to earn the series a fourth season premiering in 2021,” and The Twilight Zone, which “critics complained was too on-the-nose, melodramatic, and, well, a lot meaner things than that.”

However, there are some TV reboots that did make it work, and seemingly found the balance between the old and the new. Collider made a list of the 10 best reboots, which includes Doctor Who, iCarly, The Office, and Beverly Hills 90210. These select shows “are veritable masterpieces that bring fresh perspectives to old memories, serving a perfect blend.”

So, it can be done. Just not by recreating the most loved season without the two most important characters.

Katlynn Wheatley

Katlynn Wheatley


The Controversial Casting for the Movie Adaptation of “It Ends With Us”

One scroll through the book side of TikTok, coined “BookTok,” will leave you with several recommendations of young adult romance novels from the author Colleen Hoover. She is best known for her novel It Ends With Us, and her other popular books Ugly Love, Verity, and November 9. It is estimated that she has sold over 20 million books. 

The casting for the movie adaptation of It Ends With Us was just revealed, which has fans of the books divided. Blake Lively, best known for her role in Gossip Girl, was cast as the main lead Lily, while Justin Baldoni, known for his role in Jane the Virgin, will play Ryle.

The age of the actors seems to be the main reason for backlash, as one fan wrote on Twitter, “Blake Lively being cast as lily blooms in it ends with us is confusing because the character is 23 in the book and Blake is 12 years older ??? like could they not have got someone age appropriate.” 

While another wrote, “All this discourse about the book that Blake Lively is gonna star in the movie for is dumb bc people are saying she’s 40 and the character should be 20 but she’s an actress she’ll play whatever age she needs to??? in what show or movie is the actor the actual age of the character.”

So, what is the book about? 

It Ends With Us, written in 2016, gained traction for its themes of romance and domestic violence. It is also surrounded by a lot of controversies as to how it handles dark themes, as it is geared toward a young audience. It is clear that it is made for young adults, as the main character’s name is literally Lily Blossom Bloom and she owns a flower shop (need I say more?) 

In short, the book begins with the main character as she deals with the death of her abusive father, navigating living in a new city, and falling in love with a rich doctor named Ryle. The readers learn a lot about her past with her family and ex-boyfriend Atlas, as she reads through the old letters that she wrote to Ellen DeGeneres (yes, that Ellen) as a teenager. Lily’s new boyfriend begins to show abusive behavior toward her, like hitting her and pushing her down the stairs, for which she is always making excuses.They even eventually get married and have a daughter. Throughout the book, Lily also reconnects with her first love, Atlas, as he tries to help her escape her abusive relationship. She and Ryle only break up after an explicit sexual assault scene that was pretty unnecessary to the overall story. It ends with Lily and Atlas ending up together, which rubbed many readers the wrong way as she is clearly dealing with enough and doesn’t need to jump into a new relationship. 

Hoover has claimed that It Ends With Us is not a love story between Lily and Atlas, but rather a cautionary tale about ending the cycle of domestic violence. However, many readers have an issue with the way this was done. One reviewer on Good Reads wrote:

“I empathize with the main character Lily and I appreciate the effort that was made to highlight how trauma distorts and lingers, but I don’t believe this captures the severity or nuance that a topic this heavy deserves in fictionalized work. This book is marketed as a romance, and the synopsis makes it seem like a lighthearted love triangle instead of a woman’s experience with spousal abuse.” 

While another wrote: 

“I have a few big issues with this book and one of them is the impressionable message it could possibly leave on young readers. Another huge problem I have is the lack of repercussions Ryle receives after being outed as Lily’s abuser. His only ‘punishment’ was Lily leaving him. He got to keep his family and their support, his fancy little job, and later on he even gets Lily AND his daughter back in his life. so technically he really just got away with a little pat on the hand and that’s all.” 

It seems as though while the message could have been strong, it was executed terribly.

The Coloring Book 

Hoover has also been in hot water after attempting to release a coloring book about the novel, which is extremely tone-deaf given the content. One person on Twitter wrote, “Colleen Hoover creating a coloring book for a novel that’s supposedly about DV and SA is just profiting off of the subjects DV and SA. At this point, it’s about money for her and I feel like we should absolutely 100% boycott her and stop buying from her and supporting her.”

After backlash, production on the coloring was halted and Hoover wrote “I hear you guys and I agree with you. No excuses. No finger pointing,” she continued. “I have contacted the publisher to let them know I would prefer we don’t move forward with it. Thank you for the respectful discourse and accountability. Nothing but love.”

The question remains about how topics such as domestic violence should be handled in the media. What could Hoover have done better? Should the intended audience have been older?

Katlynn Wheatley

Katlynn Wheatley


Recent Celebrity Deaths and Their Impact on Pop Culture

The last week of January was full of unfortunate celebrity deaths. Most notably, actresses Cindy Williams, Lisa Loring, and Annie Wersching all passed away in the span of 4 days.Each of these influential women left behind a legacy and will be remembered for their work in the film and TV industry.

Cindy Williams 

Williams passed away on January 25, 2023, at 75 years old from a “brief illness” according to her family spokesperson. 

She began her acting career after college by starring in several commercials and landing large roles early on. In 1975, Williams got the role of Shirley Feeney alongside Penny Marshall who played Laverne DeFazio on Happy Days. This led to the popular television show Laverne and Shirley, which ran from 1976-1982. It followed Laverne and Shirley, two roommates, who worked in a Milwaukee brewery in the 1950s as bottle cappers.Shirley with her bubbly and optimistic character, and Laverne with her outspokenness and thick skin, served as the antithesis of each other. After the show ended, Williams went on to star in movies such as More American Graffiti, TV shows such as Normal Life, and theater productions such as Grease. 

Williams married Bill Hudson in 1982, and they were divorced in 2000. She is survived by her children Emily and Zak Hudson, who shared this statement via their family spokesperson:

“The passing of our kind, hilarious mother, Cindy Williams, has brought us insurmountable sadness that could never truly be expressed. Knowing and loving her has been our joy and privilege. She was one of a kind, beautiful, generous, and possessed a brilliant sense of humor and a glittering spirit that everyone loved.” 

Lisa Loring

 Loring passed away on January 28, 2023, at 64 due to complications from a stroke, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Lisa Loring Dead: Wednesday Addams Actress Was 64 – The Hollywood Reporter

Loring’s acting career began at the age of 3 when she starred in an episode of Dr. Kildare. She is best known for her role as Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family, which aired from 1964-1966. She later went on to star in the soap opera As the World Turns, and horror films like Iced.

Wednesday, the pale, vengeful, and compelling character has always been a fan favorite. It has since been portrayed by Christina Ricci in 1991 and 1993 in The Addams Family and The Addams Family Values. More recently, Jenna Ortega reprised the role in Wednesday which became one of Netflix’s most popular shows of all time. Ortega shared a post of young Loring on Instagram with the caption “Absolutely devastated. Thank you for everything.”

Loring was married four times, being only 15 when she married her first husband Farrell Foumberg and had her daughter Vanessa Loring, and was divorced a year later. She also married Doug Stevenson (m. 1981-83) and had her second daughter Marianne Loring. She went on to marry Jerry Butler (m. 1987-92), and Graham Rich (m. 2003-08). 

Many of Loring’s friends and family released statements about their grief. Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster shared kind words about Loring, stating “The more we worked together, the closer we got and the deeper the friendship bond became.” Her daughter Marianne also stated, “She went peacefully with both her daughters holding her hands.”

Annie Wersching 

Wersching died January 29, 2023, at 45 due to complications with cancer.She was diagnosed in 2020, according to her publicist. 

Her acting career consists of major roles, including those in Star Trek: Enterprise, Supernatural, General Hospital, CSI, Castle, The Vampire Diaries, and Blue Bloods. She is also well known for her role in the video game The Last of Us, in which she did the voice and motion capture for the character Tess. The Last of Us has been getting buzz again recently, as HBO has adapted it into a show. Neil Druckmann, the creator of the video game shared a post on Twitter saying, “We just lost a beautiful artist and human being. My heart is shattered.”

Her The Vampire Diaries co-stars also shared messages about Wersching. Paul Wesley, who played her son, wrote on Instagram, “I am deeply saddened to hear about the passing of Annie Wersching. She was a wonderful and talented person I was lucky enough to know.” 

Wersching is survived by her husband Stephen Full (m. 2009), and their three children, Freddie, Ozzie, and Archie Full. Her husband shared a statement saying, “There is a cavernous hole in the soul of this family today. But she left us the tools to fill it. She found wonder in the simplest moment. She didn’t require music to dance. She taught us not to wait for the adventure to find you.”

Katlynn Wheatley

Katlynn Wheatley


Can money buy talent?

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. 


Maya Hawke, Alexander Skarsgård and Zoë Kravitz were all named in New York Magazine's "Nepo Babies" issue.


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.

Natalie Tachikabe

Natalie Tachikabe


Avatar 2: Cultural Appreciation or Appropriation?

Nearly 13 years after the release of James Cameron’s first Avatar film, its much-awaited sequel finally hit theaters last month. Despite being long-delayed, much to the chagrin of diehard Na’vi fans, it has now grossed over $2 billion worldwide, becoming one of only six films to ever cross that benchmark. Avatar: The Way of Water picks up sixteen years after the ending of the previous film, with protagonist Jake Sully and his family fleeing their forest home to seek refuge with a clan of Na’vi previously unknown to audiences.

Cameron has never been subtle about the deeper meanings of his films; “The European destruction of native peoples, using military force, in order to acquire their land and resources, is the obvious basis for the Avatar story..” said Cameron in 2013. The return of antagonist Miles Quaritch and his campaign to kill Sully and exploit Pandora’s aquatic resources is a crucial part of the film’s representation of historical violence towards indigenous groups of all kinds. Native Americans losing their land and livelihoods to new settlers, Canada’s cultural genocide of the First Nations peoples, the list goes on and on.


A Look at the Maori-Inspired Metkayina Clan


The Way of Water introduces us to a new offshoot of the Na’vi people: the Metkayina clan. Loosely based on the indigenous Maori communities of New Zealand, the film draws upon their culture as inspiration for the Metkayina. Cameron himself has acknowledged the “fine line” between cultural appropriation and appreciation and made it a point to direct his films with respect. While many characteristics of the Metkayina are based on those of the Maori people, the film refrains from fully copying their culture and instead puts a sci-fi twist on it. 


Perhaps most obviously, we can see the Maori-inspired facial markings on some of the newly introduced Na’vi. Ronal (Kate Winslet), and several other female clan members, are decorated with lip and chin tattoos reminiscent of moko. The Maori practice of tattooing, tā moko, results in a unique moko on each individual that can represent their social status, genealogy, or even their occupation. Ronal’s most likely represents her high status within the clan. 


AVATAR: THE WAY OF WATER, (aka AVATAR 2), from left: Jake Sully (voice: Sam Worthington), Neytiri (voice: Zoe Saldana), 2022. © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection


Jake Sully’s arrival into the home of the Metkayina brings along the threat of the RDA, a human organization whose goals include the colonization and exploitation of Pandora. Returning antagonist Colonel Miles Quaritch leads the charge, frequently exacting physical violence against the Na’vi race; he kills one of their tulkuns, whale-like animals that share a deep connection with the Metkayina, in order to extract their brain fluids which act as a powerful and expensive anti-aging agent in humans. 

Quaritch and his followers clearly represent the colonizers and settlers that have historically committed mass violence against indigenous groups of all kinds, Cameron himself has said the Na’vi are fictional depictions of Native Americans. Between Jake and his family being forced from their forest home due to the threat of invading humans to the violent conflict between the Metkayina and the RDA, the story is heartbreakingly similar to what many of us have seen in our own history books.


Maori culture is not only represented on-screen but within the cast members as well. Tonowari, the chief of the Metkayina clan, is played by indigenous actor Cliff Curtis. When discussing the potential “haka”, or traditional Maori dance, to be shown in the film, Maori and Indigenous Studies lecturer Hamuera Kahi’s subtle reluctance to believe the dance would be represented correctly was overshadowed by his confidence in Curtis as a trained performer who studied the haka under Maori elder Mita Mohi. Curtis’ experience acting in other films that deal with indigenous cultures, such as The Whale Rider, adds to his credibility in accurately portraying the powerful Tonowari. 


In addition to Curtis, Duane Evans Jr. appears in the form of Rotxo, a clan member who is close friends with Tonowari’s son, Ao’nung. Evans is of Maori descent and is fluent in the native language. 


Appropriation or Appreciation?


The Way of Water is certainly a step in the right direction for more diverse representation on the big screen, but its reception among indigenous communities has been mixed; while some see the film as a positive showcase of their culture, others are criticizing it for stepping over the fine line between appreciation and appropriation. But what makes something cultural appropriation? The Cambridge Dictionary defines the term as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture”. During an exclusive interview with The Wrap, Cameron discusses his own views on celebrating the Maori culture without exploiting it; he says that the Avatar films are meant to celebrate and place the characters into these cultures that, although fictional, are inspired by real communities. Cameron acknowledges some of the more negative reviews of his most recent film, but says it’s not his place to tell people, especially those who are of indigenous descent, that their feelings are “wrong”. 


In comments collected by Washington Post author Samantha Chery, indigenous critics voice their issues with The Way of Water. Cheney Poole from New Zealand calls the film a romanticization of colonization. Sam Worthington’s character, Jake Sully, is often criticized as a so-called “white savior” who first assimilated himself into Pandora by simplifying looking the part. Even though he eventually becomes one of the people, as depicted in the first film, his previous life as a white, human Marine raises concerns about making him the constant savior of the Na’vi race. 

19-year-old Mana Tyne from Australia says Cameron’s sci-fi take on the moko reduced the traditional Maori tattoos, symbols of dignity and power and familial pride, into “abstract, meaningless shapes”. Others have brought up that Ronal, one of the newly-introduced characters with the most visible moko, is played by white actress Kate Winslet; despite a relatively diverse cast as a result of Cameron and producer Jon Landau’s global search for new actors, only Cliff Curtis (Tonowari) and Duane Evans Jr. (Rotxo) are of Maori descent and both have little screentime in comparison to some of their fellow cast members. 


“I would love to see more Maori people and culture represented on screen in cinema, but I want to see Maori people playing them…” says Mana.
Supporters of The Way of Water say the film puts a spotlight on Maori culture, showcasing its beauty without directly copying any of its practices and portraying it as a strong, dignified culture through the Metkayina clan. Critics claim it still falls short of true representation; only two Maori actors in a film largely inspired by their culture borders closer to cultural appropriation than appreciation. The Way of Water has its issues, but it still may be a step in the right direction towards decolonizing Hollywood film.

Natalie Tachikabe

Natalie Tachikabe


Kylie Jenner Reveals Son’s Name After A Year

Kylie Jenner has finally revealed the name of her and Travis Scott’s son after a year. Jenner gave birth to their son in February 2022 and had initially chosen the name, Wolf. Only a month later did she announce that she and Travis were testing out other names, and stated “we just really didn’t feel like it was him” according to People. 

She took to Instagram on Saturday, January 21, and posted pictures of her and her son with the caption “AIRE 🤍”. The post generated over 22 million likes and many supportive comments from fans. However, the name also led to confusion as fans did not know if the name was pronounced like “Air” or “Airey.” Jenner cleared this up by commenting “AIR ❤️” under one of kyliesnapchat’s posts on Instagram, while Scott wrote “It’s pronounced “air” like billionaires.”

While this name might seem strange to the average person, celebrity baby names have a trend of being unique. Oftentimes, celebrities guarantee that their children will never find their names on a keychain or magnet. Even in the Kardashian family alone, there are many interesting names including “North,” “Stormi,” “Chicago,” and “Dream.” However, they are definitely not alone. Other celebrity baby names include Apple and Moses (Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin), Atlas and Rome (Shay Mitchell and Matte Babel), Bronx Mowgli, Jagger Snow and Ziggy Blu (Ashlee Simpson), and Cricket and Birdie (Busy Philipps and Marc Silverstein). 

Could this trend lead to the public adopting these unique names for their children? A list from USA Today reveals potential popular names in 2023. These include Wednesday, Atlas, Ilonka, Leia, and Alix. If this is true, what other letters, nouns, or animals could be used next?

Katlynn Wheatley

Katlynn Wheatley