Between TikTok hashtags such as #nepotismbaby and #nepobaby boasting 231.4 million and 211.1 million views, respectively, as well as hot-button articles like New York Magazine’s “How a Nepo Baby is Born”, social media has narrowed in on nepotism in the arts and entertainment industry. In the process, online discussions on the impact of socio-economic privilege in these fields have increased, but are also more diluted.
Even the issue of nepotism alone is one filled with gray areas — is taking advantage of the opportunities one has been granted from birth an exploitative way of getting ahead or an earnest way of paying one’s blessings forward? Why should singers, actors, and models dominate popular discourse on nepotism when it exists in law, business, politics, and virtually every other field? Even the Oxford Dictionary definition of nepotism poses a kind of ambiguity in how it characterizes nepotism as “giving unfair advantages to your own family if you are in a position of power, especially by giving them jobs.” When is an advantage deemed unfair?
I can only speak to the experiences I have had firsthand. When I first became serious about pursuing a career in screenwriting and journalism, I struggled to develop industry-relevant skills that would assist me later. I could hardly ask my parents for guidance when they had no access to the arts and disapproved of my pursuit of it. Prestigious summer programs were out of the question — and by the time I began entering writing contests, I soon started to recognize the names of the fancy preparatory schools that other finalists would often hail from.
Even now, I am more often than not surrounded by white students from middle to upper-class households. A friend in my program once casually mentioned that, as a childhood Christmas gift, her parents had hired a professional author to give her pointers on her writing. It was an offhand comment, and she had mentioned on previous occasions how lucky she was for her affluent upbringing, but I couldn’t help but hate her at that moment. It was easier to visualize financial privilege in an out-of-touch “nepo baby” celebrity than it was to recognize it in the people who I had come to befriend, work alongside and admire. It was especially tricky during instances in which wealth didn’t fully work — the same friend, even with connections and wealth, was struggling to find relevant work in the same manner that I was.
I have tried hard to distinguish myself from my peers to compensate for any shortcomings of my low-income upbringing and use whatever tools I had been lucky enough to have. I won my first writing contest in high school while living out of a cramped basement and enlisted English teachers to proofread my entries. I wrote obsessively, compulsively even, in part because I loved it, but also in part because I knew it was all I could do if I ever wanted a real shot at financial stability in a field that guarantees none.
I wanted so badly to believe that there was a way to work harder and secure a future that I had spent so long dreaming of — and that every talented artist and singer in my extended South Asian family who wound up pursuing a career in STEM were just too shortsighted and steeped in cynicism to succeed.
But I see now how many of my attempted strides forward fall short. I’ve been offered internship positions which would’ve given me valuable journalism and film industry experience only to find out after I had been offered the job that they were unpaid roles I could not afford to take on. I would later see an Ivy League student on Linkedin who had worked in the same unpaid role I had rejected a few years prior move onto companies like NBC News and USA Today. I have had a newspaper turn me down for an entry-level position because even though they liked my portfolio, I didn’t have one to three years of prior work experience. When unpaid internships are resume-padding for the rich and privileged, and the few other jobs that exist are granted to individuals with connections, seniority, or both, where does that leave those of us who are just starting out?
I’m pursuing a career in the arts despite the financial risks that this choice entails because I can’t imagine my life doing anything else, nor do I want to. I love storytelling, and I believe that our books, songs, shows and films should represent our wide-spanning world for its many classes, creeds and colours. I’ve yet to figure out if that’s an act of bravery in a world where money talks and artists are situated at the bottom of the barrel — or if it’s just another naive shout into the void that won’t make much of a difference either way.