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Hollywood Star Ben Stiller Insists Hollywood’s A ‘Meritocracy’
LOS ANGELES - SEPTEMBER 28: The movie "Zoolander", directed by Ben Stiller. Seen here, Ben Stiller (as male model Derek Zoolander). Theatrical release September 28, 2001. Screen capture. Paramount Pictures.
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Hollywood star Ben Stiller, the son of the legendary comedians Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, insisted that Hollywood was “ultimately” a “meritocracy” after criticism surfaced of the new film “The Rightway,” which is directed by Steven Spielberg’s daughter Destry, written by author Stephen King’s son Owen King, and features a cast of children of famous actors.

The comment from Stiller was precipitated by Vanity Fair contributing editor Franklin Leonard, who tweeted, “Hollywood’s a meritocracy, right?” in response to a tweet that noted, “Hopper Penn (Sean Penn’s son) and Brian D’Arcy James have been cast in ‘THE RIGHTWAY’ from director Destry Spielberg (Steven Spielberg’s daughter) and writer Owen King (Stephen King’s son).”

Stiller responded, “Too easy @franklinleonard. People, working, creating. Everyone has their path. Wish them all the best.”

Leonard replied, “I do, without fail, but I also think it’s important that we acknowledge those paths.”

Stiller stated, “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.”

That impelled Leonard to respond, “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?”

“100 percent agree,” Stiller echoed. “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.”

Leonard would not be dissuaded, answering, “Fundamentally disagree, and again numbers don’t lie. 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 added, “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.

Commenting on a Twitter user who pointed out nepotism is common in other fields. Leonard wrote, “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.”

That prompted Stiller to answer, “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.”

Leonard concluded, “I don’t believe I’ve ever said or suggested that you said that you didn’t. Just that you said that Hollywood is a meritocracy. But again, I think we probably both know people do who believe that their success is solely a product of their merit and their merit alone. But again, the industry’s failure on diversity is linked, closely, to the extent to which personal and familial relationships dictate opportunity and career sustainability in Hollywood.”

Destry Spielberg weighed in on the debate, saying, “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,” then later 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 don’t have,” according to E Online.

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