ben stiller franklin leonard

Things We Saw Today: Ben Stiller and Franklin Leonard Debate Hollywood Nepotism

Plus The Crown, Black Adam, and more!

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It’s no secret that Hollywood thrives on nepotism: the children of successful actors, directors, and producers are exposed to way more opportunities in the industry. In addition, their family wealth gives them a leg up in an industry that continues to underpay and undervalue those at the bottom rung. You certainly have more time to write, direct, and train when you don’t have to worry about paying your rent and affording food. That’s not to say that those who benefit from nepotism are underserving: Hollywood is littered with talented and celebrated celebrity offspring who earned their success.

But these same people would rather believe that Hollywood is a meritocracy, and in doing so they contribute to the lack of diversity and inclusivity within the industry. And that dichotomy led to a spirited debate between actor Ben Stiller and The Black List founder Franklin Leonard.

Leonard responded to a tweet which announced short film “The Rightway,” which stars Hopper Penn (son of Sean Penn and Robin Wright), directed by Destry Spielberg (daughter of Steven Spielberg), and written by Owen King (son of writer Stephen King). Leonard tweeted, “Hollywood’s a meritocracy, right?”

Ben Stiller, son of comedy icons Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller, responded by tweeting “Too easy @franklinleonard. People, working, creating. Everyone has their path. Wish them all the best.”

Leonard replied, “I do, without fail, but I also think it’s important that we acknowledge those paths,” while Stiller responded, “Yes. Just speaking from experience, and I don’t know any of them, I would bet they all have faced challenges. Different than those with no access to the industry. Show biz as we all know is pretty rough, and ultimately is a meritocracy.” Leonard disagreed, adding I don’t for a second doubt that they’ve all faced challenges. They’re human. I simply reject the claim that the industry is – in the short term or long term – a meritocracy. If it were, how do you explain the utter lack of diversity behind the camera? Lack of merit?”

Stiller backpedaled, adding “100 percent agree. Diversity is much bigger issue. No question. And I see your point, access is access. So yes. I’m saying that untalented people don’t really last if they get a break because of who they are or know or are related to.” Leonard shut him down with the following:

Ultimately, Leonard summed it up by tweeting, “It’s not just access. It’s undervaluation. It’s active discrimination. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Hollywood film C-suite is the least diverse sector in American business. Less diverse than Trump’s cabinet.”

(via Twitter, image: Matt Winkelmeyer/Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

  • Here’s an in-depth look at Scarlett Johansson’s legal battle with Disney. (via Variety)
  • The Green Knight director David Lowery talks the challenging film shoot. (via THR)
  • Black Adam will use new technology to showcase his superpowers. (via Collider)
  • Netflix drops a first look at Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth II in season 5 of The Crown:
  • Disney is mandating COVID-19 vaccines for all its U.S. employees. (via io9)
  • Joel Kinnaman prefers James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad to that other one. (via EW)
  • Scare grandma with these Venom and Carnage-themed Instagram filters. (via Nerdist)
  • The trailer for Season 12 of Archer just dropped, featuring Jessica Walter’s final performance as Mallory:

Hope you’re enjoying the last day of July, Mary Suevians! Onwards to August!

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.