A Dive Into the Web of Stories Surrounding Nepotism in Hollywood

A guide to the long and winding family tree of Hollywood.
By Madison E. Goldberg
Hayley Bieber wears a "nepo baby" t shirt.
(Photo by Rachpoot/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)/Getty Images

In December 2022, New York Magazine published a now viral spread, titled “How a Nepo Baby Is Born: Hollywood has always loved the children of famous people. In 2022, the internet reduced them to two little words,” written by Nate Jones, a Vulture senior writer who covers film and pop culture. Accompanying Jones’ essay was a huge family tree map detailing celebrities and their relatives, along with some of the most popular schools and universities they’ve mutually attended. The article was born out of an increasing trend of pop culture buffs recognizing famous family trees on social media–and has now sparked an ongoing conversation surrounding the ethics of nepotism in Hollywood. Here’s a breakdown of what exactly led to the term “nepo baby”, and how the nepo babies themselves are reacting to it.

The Buildup to the Article

Before the article’s release, pop culture aficionados on the platform began connecting the dots. Creators and entertainment journalists like Tefi Pessoa (@hellotefi), Simone Umba (@simplysimone) and Rivet Soro (@riristea) on TikTok gained traction for their deep dives into celebrity pop culture and family trees. Many of the parents of today’s nepo babies rose to fame in rom coms and action films from the 1980s and 1990s, and with TikTok’s tendency to bring back music and movies from these decades, people quickly became curious about some of their favorite stars. Jones theorized that this could be because of the entertainment industry’s current reliance on reboots, and that a recognizable last name is often just what these productions need.

It all came to a head when 25-year-old Twitter user Meriem Derradji, an avid pop culture follower since she returned to Canada in 2013 after a stint abroad, started watching the hit HBO show Euphoria. She then tweeted about Maude Apatow, saying “Wait I just found out that the actress that plays Lexi is a nepotism baby omg 😭 her mom is Leslie Mann and her dad is a movie director lol.” And so, the nepo baby title was born, and Nate Jones had his work cut out for him. TikTok was quick to hop on the map provided by New York Magazine and appreciate its detail.

@simplysimone

#nepobaby

♬ original sound – Simone Umba

Social Media Reactions to the Nepo Baby Reveal

While some of Hollywood’s most famous families are already well known (think the Coppolas, the Spielbergs, and the Paltrows), the map made some surprising reveals that rocked social media. The “Industry Babies” portion of the extensive map showcases celebrities who may not necessarily have famous parents, but have family members who are established in the entertainment business. This included indie rock singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers, whose father was a set builder, Zooey and Emily Deschanel, who are the daughters of a cinematographer, Maggie and Jake Gylenhaal, the children of a director, and countless others from similar backgrounds.

The “Cultural Capital Babies” section outlined actors and musicians who came from families of media and design professionals. The most surprising revelation was Luke and Owen Wilson, who are the children of a successful photographer, Laura Wilson. Suddenly, the for-you page of TikTok was filled with reactions to the nepo-baby verse being bigger than they anticipated.

@marmaryeesa2022

Lol #fyp #nepotismbaby #nepobaby #snl #pleasedontdestroy #saturdaynightlive #comedy #celebrity #popculture #celebrityfamily

♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

The article also sparked a humorous trend, in which people would caption videos of themselves dancing with their parents more mundane connections that would benefit them in some way, from helping them pick classes early to free window blinds. The hashtag “nepobaby” now sits at 242.2 million views.

@sienagolfs

finally admitting it #HolidayOREOke #nepo #nepobaby #teacher #teacherskid #mom #highschool #teacherskids #fyp #privledge

♬ muerto gang – qubelly🗽

Several creators went on to categorize nepo babies based on their successes. Kate Hudson for example, whose parents are Goldie Hawn and Bill Hudson, and whose stepfather is Kurt Russell, has made a name for herself in her own right. Kate Hudson’s relatable comedic approach to acting has garnered praise from audiences and critics alike, and a scene from her 2003 rom-com How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days recently went TikTok viral.

@tellthebeees

♬ You’re so Vain – Carly Simon

Another example of a “successful nepo baby” being discussed is Maya Hawke, who is the daughter of actors Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. Hawke attended Julliard, and is most famous for her role as Robin Buckley in Stranger Things, where she plays Steve Harrington (Joe Keery)’s unlikely best friend. She recently received praise for her role in the 2022 Netflix film Do Revenge with Riverdale actress Cami Mendes. Outside of acting, she is also a musician.

@calista.mclaughlin

#greenscreen one of my fav nepo babies atm #mayahawke #ethanhawke #umathurman #nepotismbaby #nepobaby #strangerthings #dorevenge

♬ original sound – calista

Celebrity Reactions

Celebrities were fairly quiet about nepo babies following the Varsity Blues Scandal of 2019, which notably involved Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman bribing their children’s admission into elite universities. Olivia Jade, Loughlin’s daughter who unlawfully was admitted to the University of Southern California, quickly became the Gen Z poster child for the nepo baby with no specific talent, much like the Kardashians.

But the release of Jones’ spread and the rapidly evolving discourse on TikTok has led many to speak up. Kate Hudson recently addressed her placement in the nepo baby article following a recent appearance on the Today Show ahead of the release of her film Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery.”

@riristea

♬ original sound – RiRi’s Tea ☕️

Hailey Bieber, whose father is actor Stephen Baldwin, mother is model Kennya Baldwin, and is married to musician Justin Bieber, has now famously worn a white t shirt that said “nepo baby.” Gwyneth Paltrow, a fellow nepo baby, commented on Instyle Magazine’s photo  of the shirt, saying that she “might need a few” of them.

 

@riristea

♬ original sound – RiRi’s Tea ☕️

While celebrities applauded Bieber’s self awareness, others were quick to criticize it.

 

@mizft

♬ Aesthetic – Tollan Kim

Lily Rose Depp, a model recently turned actress whose father is actor Johnny Depp and mother is model Vanessa Paradis, recently made headlines for her vehement denial of privilege from nepotism. She made the comparison to a family of doctors, who, regardless of having the same profession, all had to attend medical school and go through adequate training. Some saw this as being out-of touch, especially given the difficulties of breaking into Hollywood without famous parents.

@ashweecarter

♬ original sound – Ashleigh Carter

Tom Hanks was the latest to join the nepotism conversation. On Tuesday, Hanks spoke on his distaste for the nepotism discourse surrounding the release of his upcoming film A Man Called Otto, which also stars his youngest son, Truman Hanks. He instead prefers the term “family business.”

 

Will 2023 be another year for nepo babies to dominate the industry? We’ll have to wait and see if history repeats itself.