Meriem Derradji couldn’t help but feel a twinge of betrayal when she discovered that one of her favorite actresses on “Euphoria” was not the self-made up-and-comer she thought her to be.
In other words, Maude Apatow is a “nepotism baby.”
For centuries, children born into rich, famous and otherwise powerful families have had a leg up in life, inheriting monarchies, business empires, wealth and star power. In some cases they’ve surpassed their parents’ status. This is what most parents wish for their children. It’s also often how power works, especially in Hollywood.
Now, a new generation is finding out that their favorite celebrities, talented as they may be, have benefited from a system that is not strictly meritocratic.
The phrase “nepotism baby” (or the diminutive “nepo baby”) has pervaded social media in earnest expressions of surprise (“just found out…”), envy (“pls god why couldn’t i have been a nepotism baby”) and even admiration (some favorites include Ms. Apatow, Zoë Kravitz and Dakota Johnson). Others are already talking about the next generation of nepotism babies, including the unborn child of Rihanna and ASAP Rocky (“a galactic nepotism legend already,” as one person put it).
The posts have given way to jokes about the 43rd president of the United States (son of the 41st) and Jesus Christ (son of God), inspired in part by Ms. Derradji’s tweet about Ms. Apatow. But to be fair, the family trees of Hollywood luminaries aren’t exactly standard curriculum.
“In some cases, it speaks to generational differences in celebrity familiarity,” said Alice Leppert, an associate professor of media and communication studies at Ursinus College and co-editor of the journal Celebrity Studies. She added that “some of the young stars’ parents are in the industry, but aren’t necessarily A-list actors whose names and faces are widely known.”
Julia Riggieri, 20, said that there are plenty of famous offspring whose talent is obvious to her, including the filmmaker Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola. That doesn’t mean she isn’t jealous.
“I think my envy for children of nepotism comes from the freedom that they often have,” said Ms. Riggieri, who lives in Massachusetts. “They are free to follow their creative pursuits in a way that most people are not.”
The spread of the phrase also communicates a certain disillusionment with Hollywood and a rejection of the idea that anyone can make it in creative industries. “It’s a rabbit hole within itself to find how deep nepotism is in Hollywood,” said Bree Rodriguez, 21, an emergency room technician in Arizona. “It’s like dynasties of famous families that lasted generations.” She was frustrated when she found out that Margaret Qualley, a star of the Netflix series “Maid,” is the daughter of Andie MacDowell.
“I don’t necessarily hate every nepo baby,” Ms. Rodriguez said, but she feels like “there’s no fresh faces anymore.”
“Famous people are connected to another person who’s connected to another person, and it’s just not authentic anymore,” she added.
Jess Elgene, a 27-year-old actress and comedian in New York City, doesn’t mind nepotism babies and would even venture to call herself a fan. (She loves the work of Ms. Apatow and the actor and singer Ben Platt, whose father, Marc Platt, is a Hollywood producer.) The one caveat for Ms. Elgene, though, is that she asks nepotism babies to own up to it.
“Just say, ‘Yes, I am the child of a celebrity, and I’m very grateful for the opportunities that has obviously afforded me.’ Then we’re good,” she said. “I think it’s when there’s a denial of that situational difference is what irks me — just the facade of grinding.”
“At the end of the day, the truth is, if I had the connections that you have, I would absolutely capitalize on them in the exact same way that you have,” Ms. Elgene said.
Jillian Fuller, a 26-year-old administrative assistant in Chicago who recently started acting, admitted to wishing she had a famous uncle she could call up for help. But she believes success ultimately boils down to talent.
“There are some nepotism children that are super-talented, and it shouldn’t matter who their grandfather is, or their uncle or anything like that,” said Ms. Fuller, who cited Nicole Richie as her favorite. She also mentioned Rashida Jones and Kate Hudson. “They have the chops for it, and I always appreciate that,” she said.