Ben Stiller and Destry Spielberg, filmmaker and daughter of Steven Spielberg, took to Twitter to downplay the impact of Hollywood nepotism in a debate with The Black List founder Franklin Leonard.
On Tuesday, Leonard responded to a tweet announcing the cast of the short film “The Rightway,” which features Hopper Penn, an actor and the son of Sean Penn, and actor Brian D’Arcy James. The film is directed by Spielberg and written by Owen King, an author and the son of writer Stephen King.
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“Hollywood’s a meritocracy, right?” Leonard said, pointing out that three of the people involved are the children of successful Hollywood creatives.
Ben Stiller, son of the late comedic actors Anne Meara and Jerry Stiller, chimed in, responding, “Too easy @franklinleonard. People, working, creating. Everyone has their path. Wish them all the best.”
When Leonard replied, “I do, without fail, but I also think it’s important that we acknowledge those paths,” 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.”
Franklin then said, “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?”
Agreeing with Leonard, Stiller said “diversity is a much bigger issue,” but that “untalented people don’t really last if they get a break because of who they are or know or are related to.”
Leonard then went on to claim that “statistically speaking, roughly 1/3 of the industry has their job not because of merit, but because of other factors (who they know, colonial legacy, sexism, whatever).”
He continued, “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.”
In another thread, Leonard said, “The difference is that most of those folks will acknowledge the nepotism that contributed to their success. Like I said, Hollywood folks tend to believe that it’s a pure meritocracy and their success is an indication of their merit alone,” to which Stiller responded, “Wow. Really? I totally owe a huge debt to my folks and in no way have said I didn’t. Why make broad generalizations? You argument about diversity is very sound and I agreed with it.”
In a final tweet on the topic, Stiller wrote, “Your perspective illuminated a POV for me. We might not totally agree on the generalization that most Hollywood folks believe one thing or another. But that’s less important than what you are saying about the overall very tilted and uneven landscape of the business.”
Destry responded to both Stiller and Leonard, writing in a now-deleted tweet, “I am just a young aspiring female filmmaker who admires the art of cinema. People can argue nepotism, but I know deep down that I worked hard to get where I am and it wasn’t easy. Beyond proud of this film and proud of the team it took to make it.”
She then clarified her tweet by saying, “I acknowledge that I was born with privilege! I own that through and through! I make it my mission to bring new talent into the industry & give opportunities to artists of all backgrounds. No one should be left out because of the connections they don’t have.”
After the debate was featured in a segment on “The View,” Leonard wrote, “The other remarkable bit of this is that the conversation has been hijacked into a referendum on nepotism and the talents of its beneficiaries instead of one about the systems that prevent other talented people from having the opportunities their talent merits. Quite unfortunate.”
Finishing the Twitter thread on the topic, Leonard wrote, “I say it again: If you believe it’s a meritocracy, explain Hollywood’s utter lack of diversity behind the camera.”
Reps for Stiller and Spielberg did not respond to Variety‘s request for comment.
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