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Lots of things in life are sexist – but the phrase ‘nepo baby’ isn’t one of them

The Guardian
The Guardian
 2022-11-26
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Hear that? It’s the sound of some very upset nepo babies. A “nepo baby”, for those wondering what I’m talking about, is online slang for a celebrity who comes from a famous family. Which, by the way, seems to be every other person in the entertainment industry. The phrase, which isn’t necessarily an insult, has become popular, and some nepo babies are starting to feel somewhat attacked by the term. In the last few weeks a number of celebrity offspring, including Madonna’s eldest daughter and Zoe Kravitz, have given interviews where they’ve claimed that they haven’t reallllllly benefited from having famous parents but, even if they had, that’s fine because there is nepotism in every industry.

While all the nepo baby interviews have been getting attention, Lily-Rose Depp has been raising the most eyebrows. In a recent interview with Elle magazine, Depp (an actor and the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis) insisted that talent trumps connections. “People are going to have preconceived ideas about you or how you got there, and I can definitely say that nothing is going to get you the part except for being right for the part,” Depp said.

I can definitely say that is complete nonsense. It doesn’t detract from Depp’s talent to acknowledge the fact that connections and privilege often play a huge part in success. As the saying goes: talent is equally distributed, opportunity is not. When you pretend otherwise, when you pretend that we live in a pure meritocracy, you’re not just saying that you deserve your success, you’re saying that less successful people didn’t work hard enough or weren’t talented enough. You’re ignoring all the structural and systemic issues that allow some people to play life on ‘easy’ mode.

Depp didn’t just suggest that nepotism played no part in her success, she also – rather bizarrely – argued that the term nepo baby is sexist. “I just hear it a lot more about women, and I don’t think that it’s a coincidence,” she said.

I’m not sure about that. I haven’t done detailed data analysis of gender-based applications of the term, but I can think of plenty of men who have been called a nepo baby, Brooklyn Beckham and Jaden Smith being two very high-profile examples. If we’re going to get all nerdy about nepo baby history, it’s also worth noting that the phrase gained popularity after Gen Z discovered Euphoria showrunner Sam Levinson was the son of Rain Man director Barry Levinson. And, of course, there’s the fact that the word nepotism comes from the word “nephew” and originally described the practice of priests giving cushy positions in the church to their nephews. Lots and lots of things in life are sexist; the phrase “nepo baby”, let us be clear, is not one of them.

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