Nepotism: The Hollywood Disease
BY LUCIA SABATELLI '26
It is the 95th Academy Awards, a prestigious ceremony recognizing artistic merit in film. You tense up in your seat, awaiting news that has the potential to emblazon your name on billboards worldwide. The announcer begins, “And the Academy Award for Best Director Goes To…” and the audience bursts into deafening applause. A wide smile stretches across your face, for the name echoing throughout the theater is your own.
Receiving an Academy Award is considered a great achievement, yet many are unaware that nepotism, the practice of granting relatives an unfair advantage, plays a vital role in a quintessential part of American entertainment—Hollywood. People view Hollywood as the destination for aspiring actors and directors hoping to gain wealth, power, and fame, but many of today’s celebrities achieved success through prior connections in the industry. Although nepotism in Hollywood has helped create American classics, it enables a destructive cycle of power, barring those without previous connections from success.
The proverb, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” acknowledges the advantage one gains based on connections, rather than talent. It challenges the very concept of a meritocratic Hollywood, because in the film industry, name recognition is a vital resource for many aspiring actors. Typically, films have a limited marketing budget, so actors associated with already-established figures are more likely to get hired, as those sponsors can promote a film without extra fees. Nepotism enables the wealthy to continue thriving, as connections allow people to increase their wealth, leading to better films.
Although the media has only recently coined the term nepotism, "Hollywood royalty" dates back generations. The word royalty implies superiority and power over others, gained from inheritance, and for many successful actors, their wealth can be attributed to said connections. For instance, the Barrymore family has been in the entertainment industry for seven generations. This impressive heritage extends into their careers and provided the training and opportunities that led to Drew Barrymore’s nomination for a Golden Globe—one of film’s most prestigious awards—at the age of ten. The Barrymores’ deep-rooted connections grant their descendants a large advantage, essentially one embedded in their DNA. Inevitably, Drew Barrymore, based on her name alone, may have been shown favoritism when auditioning—especially during the beginning of her film career.
Additionally, nepotism influences directorial, writing, and editing positions. The Coppola Family is a prime example, as three different generations of Coppola actors and directors have been Academy award nominees. Since the Coppolas have established themselves in many different aspects of Hollywood, their descendants have access to financial and production resources, gaining exposure at a young age. For instance, director Sofia Coppola starred in the Godfather, not because of her remarkable acting skills, but because her father, Francis Ford Coppola, was directing the film. Although she has since proven herself a talented and innovative director, she gained her start in the industry through prior connections.
Nepotism also highlights how wealth plays a role in an individual’s success in Hollywood. In general, middle-class families generate an average annual income between $43,500 to $130,000, while some of Hollywood’s most famous actors earn incomes ranging from between $20 to 40 million. Wealthy individuals are exposed to experienced people in the industry, grow up in studios, and receive training that requires connections and immense wealth. On the other hand, low to middle class American families lack the financial freedom or time to pursue the arts, so film careers are considered largely unrealistic. Consequently, the unequal access to resources allows the upper class elite to dominate Hollywood, producing media that influence the United States.
Nepotism also leads to narratives that reflect their creators’ background, which largely excludes the voices of people of color (POC). In a recent study conducted at UCLA, researchers found that people of color were vastly underrepresented in the film industry, representing only 30% of directors in the industry. A lack of POC in the industry causes a severe lack of perspective, which is problematic, because film is all about stories. Storytelling can be empowering; it can shine a light on historical injustices, highlight underrepresented perspectives, and inspire people. Thus, by favoring those with generational connections, rather than creating equal opportunity for all, Hollywood allows a single perspective to influence audiences. Although nepotism is not inherently bad, the lack of diversity in Hollywood will only further the message that connections trump unique perspectives.
Nepotism is a complicated, controversial topic. It has created many great stars, including Emma Thompson, Timothèe Chalamet, and countless others. Yet, the system prevents the introduction of new ideas into Hollywood, and representation is often lost. Nepotism advances the accumulation of generational wealth, favoring nepotism descendants while neglecting talent. In order to move towards equality in Hollywood, more impartiality and equal opportunity must characterize the film industry.