Media training: It’s standard practice for entertainers, especially those new to the industry. It guides them on what to say and, perhaps more importantly, what not to say, providing them with talking points to prepare them for the anticipated questions an interviewer might ask.
Exhibit A: “As for all the endless tabloid gossip and all the noise out there, the internet feeds itself. I don’t feel the need to contribute; I think it’s sufficiently well-nourished,” Don’t Worry Darling director Olivia Wilde commented during the Venice press conference for her film, offering just enough to appease the ravenous while also offering nothing new to nourish them.
You’d think such media training would extend to the bevy of burgeoning stars with famous parents, a group whose numbers continue to multiply. This distinguished set has come to be known as “nepo babies.” I think it’s important here to distinguish the difference between nepotism and nepo babies. Nepotism is a form of favoritism based on kinship, usually connected to the appointment of a job. Nepo babies, a derivative of nepotism, zeroes in on any figure whose success others perceive to be the direct result of their more famous parent or parents.
Many of today’s most beloved entertainers have famous parents: Jamie Lee Curtis, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Liza Minnelli, Jane Fonda, Nicolas Cage, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern, Ben Stiller, Miley Cyrus, Stella McCartney, Mariska Hargitay, Zoe Kravitz, Jennifer Aniston, Dakota Johnson, Dan Levy, Rashida Jones, Lily Collins, John David Washington, Maya Rudolph, Colin Hanks, Margaret Qualley, Kate Hudson, Allison Williams, Bryce Dallas Howard, Alexander Skarsgård, Maya Hawke. The list goes on. But who among us would dare call Liza Minnelli a nepo baby? Sure, her mom is beloved screen icon Judy Garland, a connection that might have helped make her famous, but Minnelli’s undeniable talent kept her there. Isn’t that worth something?
And yet, like so many conversations that dominate pop culture, this one has risen up for no discernible reason other than subsections of Twitter and TikTok, which have become dedicated to “outing” celebrity offspring. And as it goes these days, interviewers (and Hailey Bieber) can’t help but go to the source when given the opportunity.
Gwyneth Paltrow tells Hailey Bieber: “As the child of somebody, you get access other people don’t have, so the playing field is not level in that way. However, I really do feel that once your foot is in the door, which you unfairly got in, then you almost have to work twice as hard and be twice as good. Because people are ready to pull you down and say you don’t belong there or you’re only there because of your dad or your mom or whatever the case may be.”
Maude Apatow tells Net-a-Porter: “At first, I was sad. I try not to let it get to me because I obviously understand that I’m in such a lucky position. A lot of people have proven themselves over the years, so I’ve got to keep going and make good work.”
Zoe Kravitz tells GQ: “It’s completely normal for people to be in the family business. It’s literally where last names came from. You were a blacksmith if your family was, like, the Black family.”
Lily-Rose Depp tells Elle: “People are going to have preconceived ideas about you or how you got there, and I can definitely say that nothing is going to get you the part except for being right for the part … The internet cares a lot more about who your family is than the people who are casting you in things. Maybe you get your foot in the door, but you still just have your foot in the door. There’s a lot of work that comes after that.”
Previously, she told Australian Vogue, “It is obviously a really easy assumption to make to think that I would just have roles landing on my doorstep because of my name, but that’s an idea I’ve always kind of rejected…I’ve always been under the impression that I have to work twice as hard to prove to people that I’m not just here because it’s easy for me. I feel like you’re not what your name is. If you’re not right for something, they’re not just going to hire you because your name looks good on the post.”
Pierce and Dylan Brosnan tell People: “I think we need to just be grateful for our blessings,” Pierce stated. “It’s always gonna be there and we got to recognize it. At the end of the day, we’re just grateful to be here,” Dylan added.
Lourdes Leon tells The Cut: “I want to feel like I deserve things and not just like I’ve been given things. And, yes, there’s undeniable privilege that I’d be stupid to not realize. Nepotism babies are pretty awful usually, and my mom and my father raised me to be so much smarter than that.”
Among these, it was Depp’s response that received the most backlash. “Lily-Rose Depp is complaining [about] people calling her a nepotism kid when she’s 5’2” and walking for Chanel lmao GIRL,” read one viral tweet in response. Do I think Depp deserved a public lashing for her comments? No. But surely she could be better prepared for this inevitable line of questioning with an answer that acknowledges the innate privilege without sounding defensive.
Or, as one viral tweet read, “if I was a nepo baby I would simply live in my own world where I would study niche interests on a tropical island [and] never speak to anybody.” To quote Wendy Williams, “She’s got a point.”
Perhaps the best example of handling the question came from Maya Hawke, the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, who told Rolling Stone in September: “I feel like the only way to handle the nepotism thing — which definitely gives you massive advantages in this life — is, you will get chances for free, but the chances will not be infinite. So you have to keep working and do a good job. If you do a bad job, the chances will stop. That’s my ethos.”
It’s not only a smart ethos but a well-articulated one. Like so many conversations being re-litigated, it is not the idea itself but refining how we speak about it. Maybe the best response can be repurposing or recontextualizing Wilde’s quote from the Venice Film Festival: “The internet feeds itself. I don’t feel the need to contribute; I think it’s sufficiently well-nourished.”
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