The uproar over “Nepo Babies,” in and out of Hollywood

As the author of this New York Mag piece and its accompanying genealogy chart acknowledges, show business isn’t the only place nepotism exists in the American “meritocracy.”

An early direct encounter I had with that was lightly mocking, in a newspaper film review of some movie rife with Hollywood nepotism, a Winston-Salem NC car dealer who brought his adult son into the biz and who let the heir do TV ads promoting discounts he was offering because he was “the boss’s son.” Then and now, I can’t imagine anything that would make me want to buy a car from some never-hustled-in-his-life joker whose chief qualification for his job was who his daddy is.

Needless to say, he lost his you-know-what over the implication that he hadn’t earned his place in life.

Hollywood has always been higher profile and has always had this nepotism problem. A famous headline from 1930s Variety noted how David O. Selznick jumped to the top of the producer-wannabe pyramid by marrying Louis B. Mayer’s daughter.

“The Son-in-Law Also Rises,” Variety wrote. Now THAT’s a headline. Selznick would make films with Hitchcock and bring “Gone With the Wind” to screen. So he had a career. But he had a lot of help.

Paris Hilton? Nicole Richie? Every decade produces it’s most famous Nepo babies.

The Vulture piece in New York mag is wide-ranging and broad in its swipes, and funny to dig into. And the blowback from those outed as being born-on-third base, still insisting to one and all that they hit a ground-rule-triple, is hilarious.

Lily-Rose Depp or Jack Quaid or that Platt kid or Uma Thurman’s daughter with Ethan Hawke, you got to start “on top,” or damned near it. People are going to raise eyebrows over your sudden stardom, especially if you don’t deliver.

O’Shea Jackson, Ice Cube’s son, preaches “embrace that s—,” and rightly argues that “it’s been happening for centuries.

Yeah. Look at who rules “Britannia.” And has for 1000 years, one “chosen one” after another from assorted inbred dynasties of future hemophiliacs.

Maude Apatow, daughter of Judd and Leslie Mann, is pretty thin-skinned about being an ordinary looking young woman of at best ordinary talents about getting lots and lots of breaks.

Lily Rose Depp, Dakota Johnson, Lily Allen — Buzzfeed sees “whiteness” in this tradition. Plainly Buzzfeed is not noticing how many Wayans have been shoved down the viewing public’s throats.

The Guardian seems to think that this is “news” only because Gen Z is just now realizing that this crap goes on, that the game is “fixed,” that being related to a Kennedy, a Bush or the New York Giants-owning Mara dynasty — HELlllllooooo Rooney and Kate Mara — is a leg up in life that all the college loans you take out, all the degrees you pursue, even cheating to get into college, cannot match.

The Big List Vulture brought forth is, of course, far from being complete, just in terms of show business as a “birthright.” Sidney Lumet bought a daughter a screen credit before she married into the business and accepted that as her version of privilege. Aggravating Pauly Shore might not have become omnipresent on the screen in the ’90s had his mother Mitzi not run one of the most famous comedy clubs in America.

Stephen King’s kids are getting shots at movies and publishing deals as if he’s passing down a family restaurant or car repair business to the next generation.

Another name left out by Vulture is Jason Reitman, the son of ’80s big screen comedy king Ivan Reitman of “Ghostbusters.” Those two guys are pictured above.

Reitman came through town promoting “Up in the Air,” and as I had some experience questioning people on this sometimes uncomfortable topic, I had hopes he’d not take the phrase “magic surname” as one of the reasons he was getting a quick trip to third base in the big leagues. Fellows named Eisner and Kasdan etc. had and were doing it, and it’s not like it’s a secret.

Reitman the younger was positively triggered. He didn’t lose his temper but he did transition to exasperated.

So what happens when you point this jump-to-the-front-of-the-line connection can understandably irk people who have no truly paid their dues or earned their way into a lofty position. Trump or Pelosi or Reitman — who tried to jump even further beyond what his talent had allegedly given him by stealing the writing credit for “Up in the Air” — there’s nothing the entitled take greater umbrage over than pointing out their entitlement. When you direct a middling “Ghostbusters” sequel, there’s no sense in claiming that merit alone got you the gig.

That’s why everybody should stop whining and protesting and going on the record insisting that the fact that my parents are Demi Moore — who rose up from New Mexico poverty — and Bruce Willis (working class military family kid from New Jersey) had nothing to do with MY getting work as Rumer Willis.

O’Shea Jackson Jr. got it right. Lean into it, accept it and shrug off the criticism. If your talent will keep you where your daddy’s name put you, there’s little embarrassment in that.

John David Washington was good in “BlackKklansman,” terrible in “Tenet” and bad in “Becket” and “Malcolm & Marie,” even if “Amsterdam” was in no way his fault. Being Denzel’s kid has given him lots and lots of shots at failing and not-quite-failing. No sense running from that, unless you’re running to acting class. Which would help.

The first person I ever heard lean into their “magic surname” was the director of a Truman Capote adaptation, “The Grass Harp.” When I asked Walter Matthau, one of the many wizened stars of this star-studded but stumbling film, why he signed on (disingenuously), he piped right up with “I’m pretty fond of the fellow they hired to direct it. Charlie Matthau, I think he’s called.”

And Charlie, or “Charles,” whom I also interviewed, laughed that off and freely admitted his dad’s connections got the film made. You get Walter and Walter gets Jack Lemon and then Roddy McDowell and Spacek and Steenburgen and others are in and you’ve got financing and then distribution and then a movie.

If only everyone who has that kind of head start in life acknowledged it and accepted it and either shrugged off the criticism or got the training and the off-screen experience to not embarrass him or herself with this big chance, we wouldn’t have legions of angry “nepo babies” whining that being famous qualifies you to be more than an “influencer” or reality show “name is all that matters” presence.

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
This entry was posted in Reviews, previews, profiles and movie news. Bookmark the permalink.