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Inherited Talent (and Wealth): What is a ‘Nepotism Baby’?

I’d tell you a joke about nepotism, but I think I should save it for my kids instead.

Nepo baby
Credit: Denis Makarenko/ Shutterstock/Logoboom

Hollywood loves famous people whose parents are also famous people. This is hardly a new phenomenon, with some acting clans spanning generations. Yet recently, it seems that every up-and-coming star has a connection to the industry. ‘Nepo baby’ is the internet’s term for such celebrities, and it’s absolutely everywhere right now. So why is it that every actor’s parents seem to be written in blue text on Wikipedia?

What is a Nepo Baby?

Simply put, a nepo baby is a celebrity whose family already has connections in their chosen industry, in this case usually entertainment. This nepotism means that it is far easier to break into industries and achieve mainstream success. Did you know that singer Gracie Abrams is Star Wars director JJ Abrams’ child? Or that Dakota Johnson’s parents are Don Johnson and Melanie Griffiths, but she’s also the grandaughter of Tippi Hedren?

The creative industry has always been full of the children of Hollywood stars. George Clooney, the Gyllenhaals and Carrie Fisher all benefitted from and even surpassed their families’ fame. Many dismiss the idea that they could ever be considered nepo babies, and they are usually missing from discourse on the subject.

Social media is obsessed with nepo babies. The switch between obsessed devotion and bitter disdain is cyclical and neverending. One moment there is a barrage of criticism about privilege, and the next it disappears in favour of gushing about the nepo baby of the month.

The Wrong Approach to Criticising Nepotism

The problem with nepo babies is less that they have connections, but more the fact that some deny they even had an advantage to begin with. Lily-Rose Depp compared this to the children of a doctor going into the same profession, emphasising the work that goes into maintaining their initial head-start. If Lily-Rose Depp wasn’t the daughter of Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp, would she have a modelling career? At 5’3, she would usually be too short to model, but her mother being a Chanel ambassador may have helped her.

There also seems to be a difference in treatment between the nepo babies doing it ‘right’, and those who aren’t. The talented nepo babies are more palatable, since there is the comfort that they likely would have succeeded even without their connections. The rather reasonable standard for nepo babies is that actual talent semi-excuses the lack of struggle and position of privilege. The Hadid sisters, Maya Hawke and Zoe Kravtiz are examples of ‘good’ nepotism babies, who possess skill in their respective fields.

A lack of talent, however, makes their privilege more apparent, and therefore uncomfortable to watch. Brooklyn Beckham, son of Victoria and David Beckham, comes to mind. His constant career hopping and lack of success in his endeavors has attracted ridicule online, even being labeled a ‘failed nepo baby’. The cherry-picking and bullying here are not surprising to anybody who has spent any time on Twitter. The commentary on class and privilege, though, is rather apt.

Zoe Kravitz.
Zoe Kravitz, actress and daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet. Credit: Lev Ravin/ Shutterstock

Misuse and Relevance

People love a nepo baby, but they love the term ‘nepo baby’ even more. Stars with tangential relationships to famous people or vague connections to small New York theatres are labeled as ‘nepo babies’ alongside the children of big household names. Stars that came from wealth (which is many) are also labeled this way, and whilst they certainly have immense privilege, it is not the same as nepotism.

Besides, how much does it actually matter? Surely nepotism within government, big corporations, and law firms have more material impacts. I think the internet is, once again, on the brink of caring about an actual issue. However, it has latched onto the most comfortable and obvious industry to criticize. Hopefully, this will open people’s eyes to the more ominous and political forms of nepotism, although social media users might object to this level of critical thinking.

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English literature student! When I'm not online, I like reading, sewing, and making daisy chains.

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