Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM Radio’s daily show, The Dean Obeidallah Show. Follow him @[email protected] The opinions expressed in this comment are his own. View more opinions on CNN.
It looks like Merriam-Webster made a mistake with his recent pick for 2022 Word of the Year. Instead of choosing the word “gaslighting,” it should have chosen “nepo-babies” — at least based on the passionate debate that term sparked over the past week.
What is a “nepo baby”, some of you are no doubt wondering? “Nepo” is short for nepotism, and so a “nepo baby” refers to a child of famous parents who benefits from family connections in entertainment or other related fields.
While nepotism rarely makes headlines in showbiz, a New York Magazine cover story this week declared 2022 the “Year of the Nepo Baby.” The magazine documented a seemingly endless list of descendants from famous parents, including Stranger Things co-star Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, Zoë Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet — and many more.
This article prompted discussions about the privilege that comes with connections in showbiz – and what that says about talent and the supposedly meritocratic society we live in. Some have taken it upon themselves to defend “Nepo babies,” while others have criticized them for their privilege.
While many celebrities have weighed in on their experiences, it was actress Jamie Lee Curtis’ response to Instagram on Friday that encapsulated what it means to be a “Nepo baby” — at least based on what I’ve seen in the conversation Industry as a producer, comedian and on the team for eight seasons of Saturday Night Live.
Curtis first described herself as “OG Nepo Baby” in her post, as she is the daughter of Hollywood royalty Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. The award-winning actress then openly admitted that there were indeed perks to being the daughter of two movie stars when she began her acting career at the age of 19, writing, “I’m not suggesting there aren’t perks.” being “associated” with fame.
In a 2019 interview with the New Yorker, Curtis acknowledged her advantage when she auditioned for a role in the movie Halloween. She said: “I’ll never pretend I got that on my own, like I’m just a little girl out of nowhere getting it. Clearly, I had one leg up.”
However, she then clarified on Instagram that ”
Curtis is 100% right on both counts. No one can deny that if they are famous actors and you want to work in this field, your parents have the contacts and influence to help. And yes, there is some truth to what Fran Leibowitz wrote about nepotism in the entertainment business in a 1997 issue of Vanity Fair, which was quoted in a New York Magazine article: “Getting in the door is pretty much the whole game.”
I’ve been involved in producing projects where actors have been cast and you’d be amazed at how many very talented unknown actors there are out there. To be honest, in a situation where a producer has several very good actors to choose from for a visible role, he’s more inclined to cast the child of a famous parent because that might garner some press and fanfare.
But from what I’ve seen you must still be very talented. For example, New York Magazine notes that two out of every three people currently creating digital shorts for Saturday Night Live are the sons of SNL producers. (Full disclosure: I worked with the parents of these two young people on SNL.) I can assure you that if these kids weren’t talented and couldn’t deliver the comedy, they would be gone no matter who their dad is. This is the grueling world of “SNL” and most TV comedy shows — especially late-night talk shows.
On SNL, I often worked with the kids of very famous parents (I’m talking household names). All — without exception — worked diligently at their jobs, perhaps understanding that it would tarnish their family if they dropped names or because they wanted to prove they deserved the job on their own — or a combination of both.
But let’s face it: It’s not just a showbiz issue. There are many children who follow in their parents’ footsteps, including in politics, business and art. In every highly competitive industry out there, parents who thrive in this field can give themselves an edge. In fact, Eve Hewson, one of the “Nepo babies” identified in the New York Magazine article as the daughter of U2 frontman Bono, tweeted that the president of Vox Media, the magazine’s parent company, was a “Nepo baby” herself that her father bought the publication in 2004.
I’m thankful for the parents I have, but like others, when I talk about “Nepo Babies,” I wonder how my life would have been different if my parents were famous actors or comedians. From what I’ve seen, the area brings both benefits and burdens. Although I have to admit, if my parents were Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep – both born in my home state of New Jersey – I would have happily been their “Nepo baby.”