Nepotism’s place in Hollywood is so cemented it should probably have its own gold star on the Walk of Fame.
While celebrities like to claim it’s hard work – not family connections – that bought their entry to the A-list, this year’s signature fascination with nepo babies has illuminated the threads that make up the web of the entertainment industry’s stars and successes.
Here’s a rundown of what’s behind the nepo baby trend – and what the nepo babies themselves have to say about it.
What does “nepo baby” mean?
Nepo baby is a catchier way to say the successful child of a celebrity – someone who rode to fame on the coattails of their talented parent, often making a name for themselves in the same or an adjacent industry.
“Nepo” is short for nepotism, defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as giving unfair advantages to your own family if you are in a position of power, especially by giving them jobs.
And baby, defined as an unborn or newly born human being, can actually refer to somebody at any point of life when it’s attached to the word “nepo”. Very straightforward.
Where did the term come from?
The explosion of interest in nepo babies started with a tweet in February from a Canadian named Meriem Derradji about the cast of TV series Euphoria.
She wrote: “Wait I just found out that the actress that plays Lexie is a nepotism baby omg her mom is Leslie Mann and her dad is a movie director lol.”
The “movie director” in question is Judd Apatow, the filmmaker behind movies including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Funny People and This Is 40 – and the internet was shocked Gen Z was familiar with his daughter Maude Apatow and not him.
So Gen Z discovered lots of Hollywood stars often have famous parents – then what?
A lot of responses to Derradji’s tweet – along with the ones mocking her for not knowing Judd Apatow’s back catalogue – derided her for being surprised to learn Hollywood is a town built on connections.
The fascination with celebrities’ children and the career paths they take is not new, but with the advent of a new term came a new generation’s curiosity. TikTok became the platform where nepo babies were exposed – Zoë Kravitz, Maya Hawke, Dakota Johnson.
Why the fuss now?
In its last edition before Christmas, New York magazine published a cover story dubbing 2022 the year of the nepo baby, bringing together a forensic deepdive into how the term evolved over 2022 and a detailed flow-chart of Hollywood’s familial connections – reigniting interest in one of the buzzwords of the year.
Who are all the nepo babies?
Who isn’t a nepo baby could be a better question in Hollywood’s upper echelons.
“Platinum grade” nepo babies include Miley Cyrus, child of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus; Kate Hudson, daughter of actors Goldie Hawn and Bill Hudson; and Dakota Johnson, whose parents Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson were also actors.
Then there are the nepo babies whose stars now shine brighter than their parents: George Clooney, Drew Barrymore, Gwyneth Paltrow, Mia Farrow.
There are also extended universes of nepo babies, where every branch is famous – the Chaplin family (Charlie, grandfather to Game of Thrones actress Oona Chaplin, son of playwright Eugene O’Neill), the Kardashian-Jenners, the Coppola family of filmmakers, actors and musicians.
Industry babies occupy another rung of the nepo ladder. These are the children of directors, producers and voice actors, whose parents couldn’t offer fame but did open the door via connections, exposure and cultural capital. Billie Eilish (daughter of a voice actor), Maggie and Jake Gyllenhall (children of directors) and Phoebe Bridgers (daughter of a set builder) all fall in this camp.
What do nepo babies have to say about it?
Nepo babies have been less than thrilled at the suggestion anything but hard work got them where they are today.
Lily-Rose Depp – daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis – told Elle it’s the internet who cares who your family is, not casting directors.
“Maybe you get your foot in the door, but you still just have your foot in the door,” she said. “There’s a lot of work that comes after that.”
Her comments didn’t go down well with Italian model Vittoria Ceretti, who called out a certain “nepo baby” on Instagram, saying: “I can’t stand listening to you compare yourself to me … I know it’s not your fault, but please, appreciate and know the place you came from.”
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Maya Hawke, the daughter of actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, didn’t go as far as denying the privilege that comes with her parentage but said the “chances will not be infinite”. “If you do a bad job, the chances will stop. That’s my ethos.”
In a recent interview with The Independent, Kate Hudson brushed off “the nepotism thing”, saying “I don’t really care”.
“I look at my kids and we’re a storytelling family. It’s definitely in our blood. People can call it whatever they want, but it’s not going to change it.”
She said nepotism was more common in modelling and business than acting.
“Sometimes I’ve been in business meetings where I’m like, ‘wait, whose child is this? Like, this person knows nothing!’
“I don’t care where you come from, or what your relationship to the business is – if you work hard and you kill it, it doesn’t matter.”