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Keeping it in the family: What is 'nepo babies' and why is everyone talking about it?

By Michael Roy Brosas Published Dec 27, 2022 8:49 pm

New York Magazine shocked the internet with a star-studded cover featuring celebrities in diapers. In its latest issue, it did an “absurdly detailed” and “slightly deranged” analysis of Hollywood’s nepotism baby or nepo baby which prompted a series of conversations online.

Traced back to a tweet made by a Canadian tech-support worker last February, the term nepo baby refers to children of wealthy and well-connected parents. They are individuals whose quick ascent to success and fame is partly thanks to their family's influence and status.

According to the same article, nepo babies are categorized into three tiers. There are the “classic nepo babies” who are inheritors of famous surnames and physical features like Dakota Johnson and Maya Hawke. Then, there are the “industry babies” whose parents work behind the scenes and have the cultural capital and useful connections like Phoebe Bridgers and Billie Eilish. And lastly, there are the children of billionaires like Paris Hilton.

In the local entertainment industry, think of the Gutierrezes, Padillas, Sottos, Salvadors, and Barrettos. 

Nepo baby responses

Relatively new in our long list of internet lexicons, “nepo baby” is pushing a lot of unwanted buttons, and celebrities are distancing themselves from the label.

In an interview with Elle, Lily-Rose Depp (daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis) thought that it’s “weird to reduce somebody to the idea that they’re only there because it’s a generational thing,” she even called it sexist because according to her most of the celebrities being labeled as nepo babies are women.

Meanwhile, in a YouTube video with fellow nepo baby Hailey Baldwin-Bieber (daughter of actor Stephen Baldwin and niece of Alec Baldwin), Gwyneth Paltrow (daughter of Blythe Danner and director Bruce Paltrow) explained that family connections can be a disadvantage. According to her, “once your foot is in the door, which you unfairly got in, then you almost have to work twice as hard and be twice as good.”

For Kakie Pangilinan, (daughter of mega star Sharon Cuneta and former Senator Kiko Pangilinan), however,  it’s different. In two separate tweets she made last year, Kakie recognizes how nepotism has made her life easier, but she’s also “trying to split from it and become financially independent while supporting the causes and people she believes in.”

Parental lineage won’t cut it

There is no denying that nepotism plays a huge role in the careers of some of our favorite (and less favored) artists, but according to industry leaders, it takes more than just having connections and a familiar face to last in any industry.

Movie producer Pamela L. Reyes recognizes that “nepo babies are in a favorable position by nature and nurture”. For her, it doesn’t come as a surprise to inherit our parents’ occupations because it’s “familiar, safe, and it’s a specific family culture we grew up with”. But she also points out that “being a nepo baby will only get you to the door, but talent and work ethic is what will make you stay in [the] business.”

Sharing the same line of thought, writer and movie director Phil Giordano says that “in a lot of cases, being related to famous people creates better artists because they grew up around extremely talented people and absorb a lot of that wisdom.” However, he notices that there are instances when “nepo babies feel entitled, privileged, or elevated just because of their names or looks” and some of them “don’t have the hunger to learn from great artists.”

In nepo babies’ defense 

It must be said that being a nepo baby does not necessarily mean that these personalities are less talented and deserving of their spot in their chosen fields. Take for example the late Cherie Gil (daughter of stars Eddie Mesa and Rosemarie Gil), she was so iconic and talented in every role she played, she was dubbed La Primera Contravida, a feat that has yet to be equaled by anyone.

We also have nepo babies who are at the forefront of advocating for social change and justice. Using their inherited connections and fame, they’re challenging the status quo and doing their part in promoting positive change in the world.

Pasig Mayor Vico Sotto (son of stars Vic Sotto and Coney Reyes) for instance has become one of the most prominent local government officials in the country. Even though fairly new in politics, it did not daunt his commitment to transparency initiatives and it earned him an international award as an Anti-Corruption Champion.

Another incredible nepo baby is journalist Ronan Farrow (son of actress Mia Farrow and filmmaker Woody Allen). Using his platform and connections, he exposed the allegations of sexual abuse done by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

Beyond the celebrity buzz

Admittedly, there's an allure in getting involved in any showbiz ruckus, but the conversation about nepotism should go beyond whether or not a nepo baby is deserving of their privilege.

Show business being an industry that profits off of the people in it, it's not surprising that children of celebrities and well-connected individuals are given a leg up. Not only do they have the same commercially viable family names, most of them are split images of their parents.

This, however, should not stop us from scrutinizing nepotism whether it’s in the entertainment industry or any other field, especially if it’s the same nepotism that preserves a class system where opportunities and resources are limited to a few while the rest of us fight over what little is left.

It’s easy to get caught up in the glitz and glamor of our parasocial relationships with nepo babies, but we must recognize that they are merely symptoms of a much larger problem. Beyond them is a system that allows them to enter doors without having to lift a single finger, while most of us work ourselves to the bone just to have a quarter of the same privilege they are enjoying.

By solely focusing on nepo babies and their parental lineage, we are excusing a system that created nepotism in the first place. As nepo baby Lily Allen (daughter of actor Keith Allen and movie producer Alison Owen) puts it, “there is a wider, societal conversation to be had about wealth inequality, lack of programs and funding.”