Ben Stiller faces backlash over debate about nepotism in Hollywood

Ben Stiller just got sonned.

The comic star faced an online backlash after defending a new project written by and starring the children of several Hollywood A-listers — not unlike himself.

Stiller, who is son to legendary comedians Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara, took issue with producer Franklin Leonard sarcastically tweeting, “Hollywood’s a meritocracy, right?” in response to news of the film.

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

The project, entitled “The Rightway,” will be directed by Steven Spielberg’s daughter, Destry, and written by Stephen King’s son, Owen. The short film is also set to star Sean Penn’s son, Hopper, Deadline reports.

“Just speaking from experience, and I don’t know any of them, I would bet they all have faced challenges,” Stiller later added. “Different than those with no access to the industry. Show biz as we all know is pretty rough, and ultimately is a meritocracy.”

The 55-year-old “Zoolander” star’s second tweet immediately prompted followers to chime in, many believing the comedic actor is denying the role of nepotism in Hollywood.

“I know Ben *Stiller* is not on this bird app calling Hollywood a meritocracy lmaoooooooo,” tweeted author Preeti Chhibber,

with another observer adding, “WRONG. Show business works off nepotism & access. It has NOTHING to do with merit.”

“Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara’s son would like you to know that Hollywood ‘ultimately is a meritocracy.’” wrote another.

Leonard also replied to Stiller’s assertion that Hollywood is primarily merit-based, tweeting: “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?”

Ben Stiller and his father, comedian and actor Jerry Stiller, in 1998.
Ben Stiller and his father, comedian and actor Jerry Stiller, in 1998.
Getty Images

“100 percent agree,” Stiller, 55, replied. “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 fired back, “Fundamentally disagree,” adding in a follow-up tweet

, “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.”

“It’s not just access,” he went on. “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.”

He then added a gif reading, “those are the facts.”

Stiller then withdrew from the debate with a meme of his own, sharing a gif of “The Office” character Michael Scott saying, “I am dead inside.”

After several decades in the business, Anne Meara passed away in 2015 while husband Jerry Stiller died May 2020.