Nepotism: Corrupting Meritocracy in Entertainment and Beyond


There is no denying that the entertainment industry has an intriguing mystique. A-list public figures carry an untouchable power of exclusivity, with access to almost anything and everything. The intriguing aspect is that not everyone can attain this status; some worked hard, others got lucky, but the majority gained immediate entry due to their gene pool.

Nepotism. It’s preferential treatment given to relatives and close friends, a pattern of connections that has become the norm in Hollywood. Sometimes nepotism is transferred from generation to generation in good forms: Nick Clooney to George Clooney, John Barrymore to Drew Barrymore, John Huston to Anjelica Huston, Blythe Danner to Gwenyth Paltrow, Alan Thicke to Robin Thicke, Quincy Jones to Rashida Jones, Billy Ray Cyrus to Miley Cyrus (debatable), etc.

Alas, it is not just Tinseltown that functions on favoritism. According to the Keiser Report, nepotism is rampant in big business and government as well. In the business world it’s referred to as “client hiring” — hiring cousins, nephews, and family members of CEO’s and placing them in entry-level positions, regardless of their experience. The SEC (US Securities and Exchange Commission) is currently investigating JP Morgan’s latest client hires, because they consider it bribery to gain additional business through relatives.

Early this summer, the HBO show “GIRLSreceived criticism for featuring a cast of four female leads, all connected back to famous parents. This begs the question: does talent beget talent?

Kristen Stewart of the Twilight series.

I believe this is the truth in some instances. But ask yourself, if Kristen Stewart’s father were not a producer for the Fox Broadcasting Company, do you really think she would have been breathing heavily as Bella in Twilight? Would Daniel Radcliffe be the original Harry Potter if his mother were not a casting director? Would Chris Pine be the one to revive the role of “Captain James T. Kirk” if his father were not the former president of the Hollywood Bar Association? Would Blake Lively have been the perfect blonde on Gossip Girl if her father was not an actor and director?

A quick scan on proves that young producers, screenwriters, playwrights, camera operators, sound engineers, gaffers, and production assistants are also getting a leg up from their famous parents.

Are we seeing the pattern here? At least relative to European nations and beyond just the entertainment industry, inter-generational mobility in the United States is way behind. Perhaps even more troubling, this is in stark contrast to generations gone by. From PolicyMic:

Some 40% of children with a poor father remain poor, while only 8% will make it to the highest income bracket. In Sweden, the corresponding numbers are 26% and 11%.

Further, US inter-generational elasticity, a measure of how much of each dollar earned by a father is passed on to his son, “has increased from .297 in 1950 to .545 in 2000, indicating that social mobility has decreased dramatically.”

It’s not illegal to hire well-connected no-names with no previous theatrical background, and sharing earnings with one’s offspring is nothing to be ashamed of, but it is corrupt to give marginally qualified relatives preference over qualified strangers. How will we know what we are truly missing with all the raw talent with no connections in the industry being passed up?

Nepotism poses problems to actors, musicians, artists, dancers, and anyone else trying to “breakthrough the other side” of an industry. If you think the quality of films has decreased moderately in the last 20 years, then consider that the culture of nepotism has caused a serious problem in this industry — but try telling that to the top agents, publicists, and managers who profit from branding talent and making commissions off their market revenue. They run Hollywood, they control people’s image, and they dictate what audiences get to see.

Nobody said there would be a fair playing field; in fact, most industries involve a good amount of hustling, networking, and strategy that conveys value. Yet the entertainment industry should be based on performance skills, not the ability of a famous father to put his kid at the top of the list for a principal role.

Are we allowed to expect more of famous offspring when they make their debut? Superficially, yes, but realistically, we can’t expect talent to run in the family. It seems as if casting directors, and their counterparts in other industries, have been lazy and avoided comparing inexperienced relatives to their predecessors, prolonging the untalented hierarchy.

Nepotism is a tradition that has lasted for centuries, and unfortunately, it may last many more centuries. The bottom line is that it pays to be connected in Hollywood, especially since it’s a small world. My best advice for struggling talent is to allow your ambition and determination get you to the top, and for middlemen to realize the untapped potential available outside of known circles.

Otherwise, the temptation will remain to just marry into a famous family . . . as an easy way out of the grind.

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