Steven Spielberg's Daughter Destry Addresses Nepotism Claims After Ben Stiller Sparks Debate

Steven Spielberg's daughter Destry responded after her film created debate between Ben Stiller and producer Franklin Leonard over Hollywood nepotism and its impact on representation.

By Ryan Gajewski Jul 30, 2021 4:40 AMTags
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Steven Spielberg's daughter is weighing in on a debate about nepotism that was spurred by her short film. 

On Tuesday, July 27, Deadline reported that actor Hooper Penn, son of Sean Penn, had joined the cast of upcoming short film The Rightway. The project, which soon starts production in New York, is directed by Destry Spielberg, the 24-year-old daughter of the legendary Oscar-winning filmmaker, and written by Owen King, son of Stephen King

Film producer and The Black List founder Franklin Leonard responded to a tweet announcing the film by quipping, "Hollywood's a meritocracy, right?" Franklin was making a point about the numerous individuals involved in the film having familial connections in the industry, and he has previously been vocal about the ways in which the Hollywood system tends to keep underrepresented groups from getting work, particularly behind the camera.

His tweet led Ben Stiller, whose late parents Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara were both prominent performers, to chime in with, "Too easy @franklinleonard. People, working, creating. Everyone has their path. Wish them all the best."

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After Franklin responded that he does wish them the best but that it's important to "acknowledge those paths," Ben replied, "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 said that it's likely all have faced challenges as humans, but that he doesn't believe Hollywood is a meritocracy, adding, "If it were, how do you explain the utter lack of diversity behind the camera? Lack of merit?"

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On this, Ben was with him. "100 percent agree," the 55-year-old Tropic Thunder director continued. "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 responded by saying he "fundamentally" disagreed. "Based only on the exclusion of other folks, 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 wrote. "And we both know plenty of unqualified people who manage to stay employed for reasons other than their talent, though both of us have enough decorum not to name names."

After Franklin tweeted that people in Hollywood tend to believe the industry is a "pure meritocracy," Ben wrote on Wednesday, July 28, "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."

The Zoolander star later posted, "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."

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According to media reports, Destry then replied to both Franklin and Ben later that day by writing in a since-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 clarified her thoughts by tweeting, "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 dont have."

The debate was covered by The View on July 29, leading Franklin to tweet that he didn't intend for this to be a debate on whether those benefitting from nepotism are talented. "I say it again: If you believe it's a meritocracy, explain Hollywood's utter lack of diversity behind the camera," he shared.