Opinion: What Jamie Lee Curtis is right about ‘nepo babies’

Editor’s note: Dean Obeidallah, a former attorney, is the host of SiriusXM radio’s daily program “The Dean Obeidallah Show.” Follow him @[email protected] The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. See more opinions on CNN.


It seems that Merriam-Webster got it wrong with its recent choice for 2022’s “Word of the Year.” Instead of choosing the word “gaslighting,” it should have chosen “nepo babies”—at least based on the passionate debate the term has sparked over the past week.

Dean Obeidallah

What is a “nepo baby”, some of you are no doubt asking? “Nepo” is short for nepotism, and thus a “nepo baby” refers to a child of famous parents who benefit from family connections in entertainment or other related fields.

While nepotism in showbiz is hardly breaking news, a New York Magazine cover story this week declared 2022 to be “The Year of the Nepo Baby.” The magazine documented what appears to be an endless list of offspring of famous parents, including “Stranger Things” co-star Maya Hawke, the daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, Zoë Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet — and many more .

This article led to discussions about the privilege that comes with having connections in showbiz – and what that says about talent, and the supposedly meritocratic society we live in. Some have taken to defending ‘nepo babies’, while others have lambasted them for their privilege.

While many celebrities have weighed in on their experiences, it was actress Jamie Lee Curtis’ response on Instagram Friday that summed up what it means to be a “nepo baby” — at least based on what I’ve seen in the entertainment industry as producer, comedian and staff member of “Saturday Night Live” for eight seasons.

Curtis first described herself in her post as “OG Nepo Baby,” given that she is the daughter of Hollywood royalty Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. The award-winning actress then candidly admitted that there were indeed perks to being the daughter of two film stars when she first began her acting career at the age of 19, writing: “I don’t pretend there aren’t any” perks to being “associated” with fame.

In an interview with the New Yorker in 2019, Curtis acknowledged her advantage when she auditioned for a role in the movie “Halloween.” She said: “I’m never going to pretend like I just made it on my own, like I’m just a little girl from nowhere who gets it. Obviously I had a leg up.”

However, she made it clear on Instagram that ”

Curtis is 100% correct on both counts. No one can deny that if your parents are famous actors and you want to work in that field, they have the connections and the clout to help. And yes, there is some truth to what Fran Leibowitz wrote in a 1997 issue of Vanity Fair about nepotism in the entertainment industry, which was quoted in the New York Magazine article: “Getting in the door is pretty much the whole game.”

I’ve helped produce projects that involved casting actors, and you’d be surprised how many very talented, unknown actors are out there. To be blunt, given a situation where a producer has several very good actors to choose from for a visible role, they’re more likely to lean toward casting the child of a famous parent because it might get some press and buzz.

But from what I’ve seen, you still have to be very talented in your own right. For example, New York Magazine notes that two out of three people currently creating digital shorts for “Saturday Night Live” are sons of “SNL” producers. (Full disclosure: I worked with both of these kids’ parents on “SNL.”) I can assure you that if these kids weren’t talented and couldn’t deliver the funny, they’d be gone no matter who their father is. That’s the cruel world of “SNL” and most television comedy shows — especially late-night talk shows.

On “SNL,” I often worked with the children of very famous parents (I’m talking famous names.) Everyone—without exception—worked diligently at their jobs, perhaps understanding that if they slacked off, it would tarnish their family’s name or because they wanted to prove they earned the job on their own—or a combination of both.

But let’s be blunt: It’s not just a problem in showbiz. There are plenty of children who follow in their parents’ footsteps in, among other things, politics, business and art. In any competitive industry out there, having parents who are successful in that field can give you a leg up. In fact, Eve Hewson, one of the “nepo babies” in the New York Magazine article as the daughter of U2 frontman Bono, tweeted that the president of Vox Media, the magazine’s parent company, is herself a “nepo baby” given that her father had bought the publication in 2004.

I am grateful for the parents I have, but like others, when I discuss “nepo babies” I wonder how my life would be different if my parents were famous actors or comedians. From what I’ve seen, there are both benefits – and burdens – that come with the territory. Although I have to admit, if my parents were Bruce Springsteen and Meryl Streep – both born in my home state of New Jersey – I’d happily be their ‘nepo baby’.

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