Maya Hawke. Lily Rose Depp. Nicolas Cage. What do these seemingly unrelated actors have in common? (Hint: it’s not their profession or their success.) They’re all nepotism babies, that’s what! If you’ve been on Twitter or TikTok in the past year, you may have seen the term “nepotism baby” before. It’s one that tends to get thrown around a lot on social media, but what exactly is it and why does everyone care so much about it?
Nepotism: “favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship”
Merriam-Webster defines nepotism as “favoritism (as in appointment to a job) based on kinship”. A “nepotism baby” is somebody who’s the product of nepotism, meaning familial connections played a major part in his or her success. Whether their parent is a 90s icon (Lily Rose Depp) or Quentin Tarantino’s muse (Maya Hawke), they are byproducts of Hollywood’s elite or, as The Guardian puts it,“the acting school of mum and dad”.
So, why does everybody care so much if somebody has a famous relative? Although the talent of many so-called “nepotism babies” is undeniable, so is their innate privilege. They are born with access to the best acting coaches and the most famous directors. When other actors take theater classes at the local community center, they above individuals busy themselves meeting the most influential people in the industry at barbecues. When a “regular” theater kid must fight for a spot as an extra in the elementary school play, they appear in one of the most acclaimed crime drama films of all time as infants (look up Sofia Coppola in her grandfather’s film, The Godfather I). While parents of many promising child stage presences struggle to pay for acting classes and voice coaches, they have money for and access to the best in the business, as well as first-hand knowledge of navigating the industry.
Yes, a number of these actors are talented, but so are the thousands of other actors who don’t have their privilege and connections. A number of them start with small roles in their parents’ productions and the next thing you know, they have brand representatives knocking on their door for deals.
Nepotism in Hollywood does seem to have a limit, however. Some nepotism babies debut and fail (their acting is ridiculed, their movies receive low ratings, etc). When Sofia Coppola’s performance in her grandfather’s film, The Godfather III, was called “the worst death scene ever in the history of movies”, she turned to directing. Alternatively, after years of being cast exclusively in his parents’ productions, Jaden Smith’s recent acting credits are somewhere between lowkey and nonexistent.
As a primary contributor to far too many horrible movies with big names behind them exist, nepotism can also put extreme pressure and expectations on those who’ve been helped by it and even those who haven’t but have big names in their family tree. Many children of stars have admitted how hard it is to live up to their parents’ legacy and how they wish they could distance themselves from their last names.
Nepotism isn’t the most important issue in Hollywood but it certainly is an interesting one to explore and if anything, it’s always fun to go to someone’s Wikipedia page and experience the surprise at finding their parents’ names highlighted in blue. Try it some time; you’d be amazed at how much you discover!