On May 18, the trailer for the much anticipated Dear Evan Hansen film hit the internet. While there are many new A-list additions to the cast, including Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, and Amandla Stenberg, Ben Platt will reprise his role as the titular character – an exciting announcement for some fans that sparked thoughts on nepotism babies in Hollywood for others, like me. There was immediate backlash surrounding 27-year-old Platt’s look, and whether he was still fit to play a high schooler. And to be fair, he does look ancient – but there are certain politics to his casting.
For starters, Ben Platt is largely responsible for the early success of the Dear Evan Hansen musical. People bought tickets to see Platt specifically play Evan Hansen, and he later won a Tony for the role, so it’s safe to say he knows the part better than most at this point. The more insidious reason he likely got the movie part? His father, Marc Platt, is a Hollywood producer. He’s tied to many big-budget projects including Legally Blonde, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and La La Land. He, of course, also produced Dear Evan Hansen.
Celebrity nepotism is a Hollywood tale as old as time. To give a few high-profile examples, actresses Billie Lourd and Dakota Johnson are each third generation Hollywood royalty, and Lily Collins and Zoë Kravitz have A-list musicians for fathers. Many other artists also have relatives who may not be household names, but have connections to the business, like half the members of The Strokes (the list of nepotism babies is quite lengthy, sadly).
While Ben Platt is a little older, it feels like just about every Gen Z celebrity has some kind of Hollywood connection. Fashion model Kaia Gerber is the daughter of fashion icon Cindy Crawford, Willow and Jaden Smith come from one of the most powerful families in Hollywood, and model Lily Rose Depp’s parents, Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis, need no introduction.
As a member of Gen Z, it’s still weird to grasp that A-listers are now my age; Kaia Gerber is only two months older than me. After watching these elite arbitrary few achieve success at such a young age, I can’t help but wonder what hope there is for the rest of us. But then I remember that who they are and why they’re famous is just that: arbitrary. Comparing yourself to them is ineffective, and you’re just doing yourself a disservice in doing so.
Fame Is No Longer Earned, But Passed Down
I’m sure I speak for many when I say “focusing on you” is easier said than done. It’s harder to trust the process when you see others achieving success and getting what they want at a much faster rate, and social media certainly doesn’t help. Most of us Gen Zers are still in college trying to figure ourselves out, while a select number have their lives cut out for them simply because of circumstances. Under capitalism, you supposedly have an equal shot at life if you just “work hard enough,” but being born in L.A. to rich and famous parents hardly sounds like hard work. While I, a plebeian, scramble to get finals done and land a summer internship, 19-year-old Levon Hawke (son of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman) prepares to star on Stranger Things. Because of his name and parents, it’s like he was guaranteed a role on one of the most popular series on Netflix.
There are aspiring artists everywhere with all the talent and drive in the world, but they can’t get their foot in the door due to a lack of resources. Ben Platt may have a beautiful voice, but he was lucky enough to have the connections and financial support needed to boost his career, just because he was born to the right parents. Thanks to privilege, Ben Platt and other nepotism babies are already five steps ahead when it comes to achieving their goals.
I don’t mean to suggest that artists with famous parents can’t be hardworking or genuinely talented, but their obstacles and the average person’s obstacles are not the same. By having to start at zero, “ordinary folk” have an unfair advantage, and it’s thus much more difficult to reach any kind of celebrity status or high recognition. Celebrity nepotism sends the message that in order to have any kind of chance in Hollywood, you have to be born into it. This completely contradicts that old-school celebrity fantasy of the “lucky break.” There are tons of stories of actors and models getting discovered on the street or running errands (Jennifer Lawrence, Naomi Campbell, even Justin Bieber was just a kid singing on Youtube at one point), but today, fame and success are seemingly inherited. It’s a far cry from the entertainment industry that thrived for so long off of hope and undiscovered talent.
Celebrity Nepotism Reflects Nothing About You, But It Should Reflect More About Celebrities
This doesn’t mean that the rest of us now have to go home and give up on our dreams. Circling back to Dear Evan Hansen, the bridge of the song “Waving Through A Window” asks, “When you’re falling in a forest/and there’s nobody around/do you ever really crash/or even make a sound?” This, of course, is a play on the classic philosophical question of whether or not a tree makes a sound if it falls while there’s no one around to hear it, and the answer is unequivocally yes.
In other words, your art or work is of no less value or quality simply because it doesn’t have a lot of exposure. It can be difficult to stay motivated without any kind of recognition, but just because someone is famous doesn’t mean they’re inherently more talented (we really could have all lived without Emily in Paris). Nepotism may rob deserving people of opportunities – and that will forever be unfair – but not having your foot in the door doesn’t take away from the fact that you may have a beautiful voice, or you take unbelievable photographs. Your talent is yours so long as you continue to cultivate it. If you let discouragement get the best of you and you give up on your ambitions altogether, well, then there goes any kind of shot at success.
Having connections should not be confused with having a gift. Kaia Gerber may prove herself in time to be an exceptional model, but there’s no denying that the opportunity was also right there waiting for her if she wanted it. This wasn’t necessarily a career move earned from merit. What family you’re born into is out of your control, but your gift is purely you. So, if it’s any consolation, someone being more famous or successful than you doesn’t necessarily mean they’re more talented.
That’s not to say that the children of celebrities shouldn’t be given the chance to prove themselves just because their parents are famous, but I propose that celebrity nepotism babies deserve harsher criticism; they had an easier start, so let’s make them work to actually impress us.