Ben Stiller Gets Into Debate Over Nepotism in Hollywood, Calls Show Business 'a Meritocracy'

Stiller, who is the son of Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, said, “Everyone has their path” during an online debate about nepotism in Hollywood

Ben Stiller
Ben Stiller. Photo: Nicholas Hunt/Getty

Ben Stiller got into a lengthy debate over nepotism in Hollywood.

The actor and director, 55, responded to a tweet by Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List and contributing editor at Vanity Fair, in which Leonard shared an article about the children of several Hollywood stars working on a short film together.

"Hollywood's a meritocracy, right?" Leonard tweeted on Tuesday.

The article he shared discussed a short film, The Rightway, starring Hopper Penn, Sean Penn's son, and Brian d'Arcy James. The film is being directed by Destry Spielberg, Steven Spielberg's daughter, and was written by Owen King, Stephen King's son. (James' uncle was Brian Kelly, who produced Blade Runner, while his grandfather was the former governor of Michigan Harry Kelly.)

Stiller, who is the son of comedy legends Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, responded to the tweet, writing, "Too easy @franklinleonard. People, working, creating. Everyone has their path. Wish them all the best."

Leonard tweeted back, "I do, without fail, but I also think it's important that we acknowledge those paths."

The Zoolander star wrote, "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."

The debate with Leonard continued as he responded with, "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?" Leonard added.

Stiller tweeted, "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."

Franklin Leonard
Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List. Noam Galai/WireImage

Leonard hit back, citing "other factors" that prevent those without connections in Hollywood from breaking out, such as "(who they know, colonial legacy, sexism, whatever)."

"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," Leonard tweeted at Stiller, before adding a gif that read, "Those are the facts."

Stiller simply responded with a gif of Steve Carell from The Office in which he says, "I am dead inside."

Stiller's acting career began when he was 9 as a guest on his mother's TV series Kate McShane. In 2016, the actor told Parade magazine he had "a show-business upbringing—a lot of traveling, a lot of late nights— not what you'd call traditional."

His older sister, Anne, also appeared on several of his own films including Reality Bites, Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story and Zoolander.

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Stiller's children, daughter Ella Olivia Stiller and son Quinn Stiller have had roles in some of his films. The actor directed Ella in an episode of his miniseries Escape at Dannemora in 2018. Ella has also had roles in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and 2020's Hubie Halloween, both of which her father also starred in.

Quinn appeared in an uncredited role in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb and had a small role in this year's Locked Down starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

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