For centuries, it was understood that the ruling class was made such because of their blood. The late Queen Elizabeth, is, after all, our most famous nepo baby. It’s the same way for celebrities: We’ve long accepted that many of our favorite celebrities got a leg up because their parents are also famous; we’ve long known this for Drew Barrymore and Kate Hudson, for celebrity heiresses, or for an entire generation of Coppolas.
In previous generations, nobody really talked about nor seemed to care about how Drew Barrymore’s father was John Barrymore (or that her family has been successful actors since the 1700s) or that Nicholas Cage is a Coppola. Now, we have an easy language in which to talk about it, a handy, diminutive label that works to gently undermine the next generation of talent that also happen to be children of celebrities.
More recently, when it is revealed that an actor has parents whose names require hyperlinks on Wikipedia, it doesn’t merely solicit eyerolls, but contempt. We scoff at the casting of Maude Apatow on Euphoria, at Zoë Kravitz’ intrinsic coolness that’s led to roles in Big Little Lies and Catwoman; and of course at the fame of Lily-Rose Depp, because there is no world in which the child of Vanessa Paradis and Johnny Depp isn’t going to be famous.
Journalists, as they are prone to do, have been having a heyday with the term lately, and they can’t help themselves from asking the children of celebrities what they think of the concept of “nepo baby.” While basic decency asks that people in positions of privilege graciously acknowledge that privilege, some nepo babies are vehemently defending the term.
When Lily-Rose Depp was asked in a recent interview with Elle what she thinks of the term “nepo baby,” she said it was reductive. “It’s weird to me to reduce somebody to the idea that they’re only there because it’s a generational thing,” she said. “It just doesn’t make any sense. If somebody’s mom or dad is a doctor, and then the kid becomes a doctor, you’re not going to be like, ‘Well, you’re only a doctor because your parent is a doctor.’ It’s like, ‘No, I went to medical school and trained."
And in an interview with GQ this week, Zoë Kravitz echoed the sentiment: “It’s completely normal for people to be in the family business,” Kravitz says. “It’s literally where last names came from. You were a blacksmith if your family was, like, the Black family.”
What I went to tell them is...you are so close. Of course, someone has to go to medical school to be a doctor, but if someone has a parent who is a doctor, that is a massive part of why and how they became a doctor. They knew they could be a doctor and then had the resources to pursue it. It’s the same thing with becoming an actor. Sure, acknowledging that the children of celebrities have had certain privileges and access to the industry might undermine their talent. That is okay; it’s kind of the whole point.
Apatow dealt with the question with slightly more self-awareness — but despite having famous parents, she wasn’t sitting on Scary Spice’s lap at the VMAs like Kravitz, and her dad directs movies starring Seth Rogan; he’s not Johnny Depp.
“At first it was sad,” Apatow said in an interview with Net-a-Porter, saying she felt she being judged by something other than her talent. “I try not to let it get to me because I obviously understand that I’m in such a lucky position,” she continued. “A lot of people [in a similar position] have proven themselves over the years, so I’ve got to keep going and make good work.”
“I’ve acted in so many of my parents’ movies, and people are going to say it’s nepotism. I mean, it’s not even an insult — well, it is an insult, but it is what it is,” she also told the Los Angeles Times. “I’m gonna spend my whole life trying to prove myself as an individual, and that’s a chip on my shoulder. It’s really important to me to show that I work really hard, because I do.”
In Hollywood, we like to romanticize rags to riches tales of stardom, savoring narratives like A Star Is Born and La La Land. We want so badly to believe in the lie of the American Dream because it’s romantic and hopeful. It’s more glittery than Apatow leaving her screeplays on her dad’s desk or Lily Collins getting an audition for a friend of a friend of her dad Phil.
But saying someone is benefitting from nepotism isn’t an insult. Capitalizing on connections is how the world works, and happens in virtually every industry. It’s a fact, and one that we can acknowledge and move on from, instead of deflect and defend. Doing so only furthers the gap these celebrities so badly want to close in the first place.