Steven Spielberg’s daughter Destry responded after her film sparked a debate between Ben Stiller and producer Franklin Leonard over Hollywood nepotism and its impact on representation.
Steven Spielberg’s daughter is taking part in the nepotism debate that has erupted over her short film.
On Tuesday, July 27, Deadline reported that actor Hooper Penn, son of Sean Penn, has joined the cast of the upcoming short film The Rightway. The project, which will soon begin production in New York City, is directed by Destry Spielberg, the 24-year-old daughter of the legendary Oscar-winning director, and the screenplay was written by Owen King, son of Stephen King.
Film producer and founder of “The Blacklist” Franklin Leonard responded to the tweet announcing the film by saying, “Hollywood is a meritocracy, right?” Franklin alluded to the fact that many of the film’s cast members are related in the industry, and he has previously commented on how Hollywood’s system prevents underrepresented groups from getting jobs, especially behind the camera.
His tweet prompted Ben Stiller, whose parents Jerry Stiller and Anne Mehar were famous artists, to respond, “Too easy @franklinleonard. People work, create. Everyone has their own way. I wish them all the best.”
After Franklin replied that he wished them all the best, but it was important to “acknowledge those paths,” Ben replied, “Yes. Speaking from my own experience, and I don’t know any of them, I’m willing to bet that they’ve all faced challenges. They’re different from those who don’t have access to the industry. Show business, as we all know, is pretty tough, and ultimately it’s a meritocracy.”
Franklin said they’ve probably all faced challenges as people, but he doesn’t believe Hollywood is a meritocracy, adding, “If it were, how do you explain the total lack of diversity behind the camera? Lack of merit?”
On this, Ben was in agreement with him. “I agree 100 percent,” the 55-year-old “Tropic Thunder” director continued. “Diversity is a much bigger issue. There’s no question about it. And I understand that access is access. So yes. What I’m saying is that non-talented people are really short-lived if they get a break because of who they are or who they know or who they’re associated with.”
In response, Franklin said he “fundamentally” disagreed. “Based only on the exclusion of other people, statistically speaking, about 1/3 of the industry has their jobs not because of merit, but because of other factors (who knows, colonial heritage, sexism, whatever),” he wrote. “And we both know plenty of unqualified people who manage to stay in their jobs for reasons other than their talent, though we both have enough decency not to name names.”
After Franklin tweeted that people in Hollywood tend to believe this industry is “pure meritocracy,” Ben wrote on Wednesday, July 28, “Wow. Really? I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my ancestors and in no way did I say it wasn’t. Why make broad generalizations? Your argument about diversity is very sound, and I agree with it.”
The “Zoolander” star later wrote: “Your point shed light on my point. Perhaps we don’t quite agree with the generalization that most Hollywood people believe one way or the other. But that’s less important than what you say about the general very sloped and uneven landscape of this business.”
According to media reports, Destry responded to Franklin and Ben later that day, writing in a deleted tweet, “I’m just a young aspiring female director who admires the art of film. People can argue about nepotism, but deep down I know I worked hard to get where I am, and it wasn’t easy. I’m very proud of this film and proud of the team that made it.”
She clarified her thoughts by tweeting, “I admit I was born with privilege! I recognize that to the end! My mission is to bring new talent into the industry and provide opportunities for artists of all backgrounds. No one should be left out because of connections they don’t have.”
The debate was covered on The View on July 29, leading Franklin to tweet that he wasn’t going to turn it into a debate about whether those who benefit from nepotism are talented. “I say it again: If you think this is a meritocracy, explain the complete lack of diversity behind the camera in Hollywood,” he shared.