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  • Writer's pictureJack McAllister

Nepotism is Still Big Business

Walking around New York it’s almost impossible to miss the Capital One credit card billboards and advertisements featuring Rashida Jones. Known for her comedy work in shows like “The Office” and “Parks and Recreation,” Jones has been tickling viewers with her comedy chops for years.

She is also the daughter of acclaimed musician and producer Quincy Jones, and legendary actress Peggy Lipton. Maybe rich and famous parents gave her a leg up in the industry, but it’s harmless, right?

The victims of the tragic shooting on Alec Baldwin’s “Rust” set may beg to differ. 24 year old armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed is the daughter of Thell Reed, an experienced stuntman, armorer and firearms consultant. The senior Reed has more than 45 film credits as an armorer. Before the “Rust,” job the younger had just one.

Were there other, more experienced armorers available to the “Rust” producers? Most definitely. Did any of them have the pedigree of legendary Thell Reed, who before his film career was a trick shooter? Most definitely not.

Angelina Jolie, Rumer Willis, Gweneth Paltrow, Charlie Sheen (and brother Emilio Esteves), Lena Dunham, Kate Hudson and even Jaden Smith and Willow Smith are just a few examples of successful Hollywood careers foisted upon the public thanks in no small part to their wealthy and famous parents.

For some, like Willis, Sheen, and the Smiths, their name recognition allows them to directly profit off their family ties. Others, like Paltrow (m. Blythe Danner), Hudson (m. Goldie Hawn) and Jolie (f. Jon Voight) do not use the names of their more-famous parents, but still profit off the privilege and connections their wealthy and successful parents provide.

Dunham, whose parents are well known and wealthy artists, received some of the most public (online) backlash to her success coming from her wealthy and well-connected parents, both of whom are heavily involved in the art world. In June 2020 Dunham drew the ire of twitter users attacking her for not acknowledging the leg-up she received.

She responded by tweeting “the Hollywood system is rigged in favor of white people and that my career took off at a young age with relative ease, ease I wasn’t able to recognize because I also didn’t know what privilege was.”

Of the list above, only Jaden and Willow Smith are creators and actors of color. The rest are products of establishment-hollywood marriages that seemed almost tailor-made to produce successful children. And that list doesn’t even get into the Coppolas, a clan of which Nicolas Cage is also a part.

You might find yourself calling me captain obvious; telling me that pointing out nepotism in Hollywood is not a new story. Taken with the death of one young creative and the injury of another on the set of “Rust,” I’d say it’s a story worth revisiting.

Across industries we seem to have become far too comfortable with allowing nepotism to line the pockets of elite families. The Murdoch children running their father’s hateful, expansive and multi-billion-dollar media network, now portrayed with snark and thinly veiled allusions to their real-life counterparts on HBO’s “Succession,” are one such example.

A deeply unqualified President of the United States was elected in-part thanks to his name recognition. Multi-millionaire senator Joe Manchin’s son now runs a part of his small coal empire built in the 1980’s, according to The Intercept. Manchin is currently opposing climate initiatives and a scaling back of fossil fuel use in infrastructure legislation.

The wealthy senator was recently confronted on two separate occasions by protestors: once on his $250,000 boat (or yacht depending on your definition of the word) named “Almost Heaven.” The other, while pulling his Maserati Levante SUV (16 miles per gallon and selling for a base price of $79,000 new) out of a parking garage.

Nepotism is as American as baseball and apple pie. Because of it, we fought an unwinnable war for 20 years. Because of it, we might not get meaningful climate legislation for future generations. Because of it, families are able to retain near-indescribable amounts of wealth and power across generations. Because of it, an innocent life on a film set is gone.

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