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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Bet you didn’t know their parents were famous! Unpacking Hollywood nepotism

The influence of influential parents

Nepotism is nothing new in Hollywood. In fact, it’s rather common knowledge that it’s nearly impossible to break into the industry without connections. With practically every good role going to someone with a recognizable last name or a producer parent, why is nepotism in the entertainment industry not talked about more? It’s hard to find reliable resources on children of influential parents because so much that pops up are slideshows on gossip blogs or Quora answers. In its attempt to hold up an image of authenticity and hope, Hollywood sweeps its extensive network of connections under the rug — and, along with it, the careers of hopeful, non-nepotism-benefiting actors.

If so many celebrities had their foot in the door when they began, why don’t they mention it? Many stars are self-conscious about how they got their start. It’s a lot more endearing to have an underdog story than to have success planned for you from birth. Some celebrities are upfront about their nepotism privilege. The Pinkett-Smith family is well-known as a unit. Children Jaden and Willow don’t go out of their way to hide their obvious connections; it’s well known their careers are heavily attributed to the success of their parents. For some celebrities, it’s too obvious to hide. Respected actress Drew Barrymore’s family is known for its long line of famous actors, and Barrymore doesn’t try to hide her lineage.

The notion of unearned success is too difficult for some to bear. Lately, with celebrities more accessible than ever, young actors are pushing harder to prove they fought for where they are. 

In an interview with Variety, “Stranger Things” breakout star Maya Hawke was asked about her audition process for Quentin Tarentinto’s latest film “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” She was adamant that she “auditioned like everyone else,” citing a simple call from her agent and a self tape in her bedroom with her dad. What was absent, but implied, from Hawke’s reply was that her father is famous actor Ethan Hawke. Her mother is famous actress Uma Thurman, well regarded as the muse of Quentin Tarentino. Zoë Kravitz, star of Hulu’s “High Fidelity” claimed her famous parents (Lisa Bonet and Lenny Kravitz) had nothing to do in her casting in George Miller’s 2015 hit “Mad Max: Fury Road.” “George Miller doesn’t f-cking care who my parents are,” Kravitz said. 

It is undeniable that nepotism has given us some of our most distinguished, beloved performers of all time. But it is impossible to ignore the obvious consequence: the neglect of less connected actors. The imbalance is apparent when you realize how many household names are the spawn of previous household names. There are countless untalented actors given chance after chance because their parents are footing the bill and countless talented actors out of a job because of it. It’s also impossible to say all products of nepotism are untalented (though many do have access to the best learning materials very early on). Until the entertainment industry addresses this imbalance, their elisitim will do nothing but ruin the quality of their own product.

Everyone’s understanding of nepotism is different. It varies based on your age, your exposure to media and your likes and dislikes. For example, I know of many nepotism-produced celebrities because of my unexplainable need to read the Wikipedia page of every actor I see. This list provides a mix of established and up-and-coming actors who you may or may not have known have influential parents.

Laura Dern (“Jurassic Park,” “Marriage Story,” “Little Women”) 

Older generations are sure to be familiar with the recent Academy Award winner’s lineage, but for the younger readers: Dern is the daughter of Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd, two Oscar-nominated actors.

Rashida Jones (“Parks and Recreation,” “The Office”) 

Nepotism doesn’t just come from parents in the movie industry, privilege stems from all types of influence. Jones is the daughter of 28-time Grammy winner Quincy Jones and actress Peggy Lipton.

J.J Abrams (Director, “Star Wars”) 

The acclaimed director sold his first screenplay play while he was still in college. It’s less impressive when you learn his father was a TV producer and his mother was an executive producer.

Allison Williams (“Get Out,” “Girls”) 

The actress’ fame undeniably stems in part from the last name she shares with father and chief anchor of MSNBC, Brian Williams.

Robert Downey Jr. (“Iron Man,” “Doolittle”)

It is often forgotten that the Marvel actor got his start acting in his director father’s films.

Jamie Lee Curtis (“Halloween,” “Freaky Friday”) 

The actress is the daughter of Hollywood royalty: Her mother is Janet Leigh, star of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” and her father is also an actor.

Kristen Stewart (“Twilight,” “Personal Shopper”) 

The primarily indie actress was less of an underdog than we were led to believe during her 2008 breakout. Her father is a producer, and her mother is a script supervisor.

Daniel Radcliff (“Harry Potter”) 

Similar to the blatant nepotism that his character’s identity is based off of, the former child actor is the son of an agent and a casting director. Not a surprise he landed the coveted role.

Maude Apatow (“Euphoria”) 

It seemed almost inevitable that this nepotism powerhouse wouldn’t break into the industry. In 2019, she landed a role in HBOs hit series “Euphoria,” following in the footsteps of her actress mother Leslie Mann and actor, director and incredibly influential producer Judd Apatow.

Margret Qualley (“Novitiate,” “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”) 

The on-the-rise actress who garnered acclaim for her performance in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is the daughter of actors Andie MacDowell and Paul Qualley.

Written by: Livvy Mullen — arts@theaggie.org

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