How to survive the "nepo baby" label, win friends and influence people

From Allison Williams to Romy Croquet Mars, these celebs earn respect from more than just their famous parents

By Olivia Luppino


Published April 7, 2023 3:01PM (EDT)

Tracee Ellis, Ross Allison Williams and Drew Barrymore (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Tracee Ellis, Ross Allison Williams and Drew Barrymore (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

According to New York Magazine, 2022 was the year of the nepo baby. Because humans have a proclivity to do favors for close friends and family and also create unfair systems that reserve opportunities for a select few regardless of their capabilities, nepo babies have likely existed in every industry since the beginning of time. However, the internet — I mean, Gen Z — discovered the phenomenon in Hollywood last year, and celebrity interviews will never be the same. 

"Nepo baby" is an accusation and a value judgment.

Obviously, nepotism is not good. It's unfair and boxes other people out of opportunities that they are equally or more qualified for. It functions to support the people already in power, and we know those people are disproportionately white, rich and male. Questioning Hollywood's nepo babies comes from a place of challenging these larger systems of oppression and advocating for more diverse film, TV and music industries. Calling out these people online has helped us see just how common it is to have a family member already in the industry and the privileges that can afford. It seems so clear that Brooklyn Beckham would not have a photography book and Lily-Rose Depp would not have modeled for Chanel at just 5'3" if they didn't have the parents they do. 

The term "nepo baby" has transformed online. It is liberally applied and not often deployed with nuance. Any celeb with a parent in a similar industry has been called into question. "Nepo baby" is an accusation and a value judgment, but if you respond correctly you can earn your rightful place in Hollywood in the eyes of the chronically online. The days when famous children were seen as royalty are behind us. Now, if you're the child of someone famous, chances are that fateful moment when a journalist asks you to speak on your nepo baby status will come, if it hasn't already. How you respond determines if you're the newest subject of the internet's rage.

Throughout the past year and especially after the Vulture article was published in December, more and more nepo babies have had to answer for their privilege. Maude Apatow, daughter of filmmaker Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann, said that the label made her "sad" because it felt like people were not judging her based on her talent. Emma Roberts, niece of Julia Roberts, called the label "ridiculous" and "obviously not true" since she's been turned down for roles before. Lily-Rose Depp, daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, also downplayed the role her parents played in getting her jobs, overshadowing her point that "I just hear it a lot more about women, and I don't think that it's a coincidence." Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet, rightly pointed out, "It's completely normal for people to be in the family business." None of them quite passed the internet's vibe check. 

Beating the nepo baby allegations is not just about distancing yourself from your parents or proving that you worked hard.

The conversation has been different for older generations of nepo babies like Drew Barrymore, Tracee Ellis Ross, George Cloonery, Jane Fonda, Ben Stiller and Jamie Lee Curtis. They had decades to prove themselves and started out in times when having famous parents wasn't compromising. Most importantly, they've had impressive careers that we've all loved to follow. They should give hope to the nepo babies that come after them. Still, Curtis' Oscars win this year didn't go without people mentioning her parents. 

Oscar acting winners Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh, Brendan Fraser and Jamie Lee Curtis in the press room during the 95th Annual Academy Awards at Ovation Hollywood on March 12, 2023 in Hollywood, California (Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)As a member of Gen Z and therefore an arbiter of who is and isn't a good nepo baby, I know that beating the nepo baby allegations is not just about distancing yourself from your parents or proving that you worked hard. Allison Williams, daughter of Brian Williams, was widely praised for her response and is even having a bit of a renaissance online between promoting her movie "M3GAN" and old clips of her character Marnie on "Girls" circulating. She gave a masterclass on how to field the nepo baby questions on "Watch What Happens Live."

First, she quickly accepts the label and doesn't get touchy about it. It's completely valid that nepo babies have feelings about being called nepo babies, but if they want to pass the internet's test, they can't share them. This is why people were unhappy with Apatow. Next, Williams acknowledges her privilege, saying, "I was born on third base." Then, she sympathizes with us non-nepo babies, agreeing, "I'm not an underdog," and "It's not fun to root for me." Williams doesn't attempt to prove that she worked hard like others have. She knows that no matter how hard a nepo baby works day-to-day, the hardest part, breaking into the industry, was done for them. 

Then there's Romy Croquet Mars, who is not quite a nepo baby yet. Mars is Sofia Coppola and Thomas Mars' 16-year-old daughter. In late March, Romy Croquet Mars uploaded her first public TikTok where she attempts to make pasta alla vodka since she is grounded because she tried to charter a helicopter with her dad's credit card to visit a camp friend. So much is packed into Mars' 49-second film debut. We learn that she doesn't know the difference between an onion and garlic (or an onion and a shallot for that matter), that she jokingly calls her babysitter and her babysitter's boyfriend her "replacement parents" and that she's not allowed public social media because her parents "don't want me to be a nepotism kid." 

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The internet loved her. Mars' approach to nepotism is far from Williams' polished response, but she gave us something else: good content. The video is inexplicably sped up. It includes a shot of her smiling and wielding a knife. Her babysitter's boyfriend goes on a bizarre tangent about using the word "fiasca" instead of "fiasco" to supposedly make the world feminine. It's utter chaos and it's delightful.

Mars is able to sidestep backlash for a statement so privileged it doesn't sound real ("I'm grounded because I tried to charter a helicopter from New York to Maryland on my dad's credit card because I wanted to have dinner with my camp friend") because she just says it outright. She's self-aware and authentic. Being a good nepo baby in the eyes of the public isn't about distancing yourself from your parents or your privilege since one of the biggest problems we have with nepo babies is how hidden they feel, even if they share their famous parents' last name. Nepo babies have a sense of dishonesty, and this is one of our biggest problems with them. Plus, Mars is raging against her powerful parents, who are the people that the nepo baby discourse is ultimately most upset with. 

The stakes have never been higher for the children of the rich and well-connected, but Williams and Mars show us how to respond best. Be upfront about who you are, have the talent to back it up, and at the very least give us some good content. If you do that, you can join the elite group of nepo babies who make important contributions to the world, like Drew Barrymore's entire TikTok account or Jane Fonda's "80 For Brady." My favorite nepo baby, Dakota Johnson, took down Ellen

By Olivia Luppino

Olivia Luppino is a producer at Salon. Previously, she wrote about culture, fashion and lifestyle for The Cut and Popsugar.

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