As a teen, I grew up watching reruns of Star Trek: The Next Generation and looking at the character of boy genius, Wesley Crusher, played by Wil Wheaton who was all but 15 at the time, I, like many others, always wondered about the perks of becoming famous so early in life- the fame, how they must never have to study, etc. But outside of this rose-tinted imagination, the world of childhood stardom is shrouded in darkness, hiding ugly truths, fake smiles, and crushed childhoods. And HBO’s latest documentary, Showbiz Kids, does more than just shed light on it.
Though there are moments that Showbiz Kids lulls and drags as it opted to skim topics that needed better insight, it will still end up triggering discussions about the treatment meted out to child actors and how it should not be something that is allowed to slide by.
Written and directed by Alex Winter, who himself started his journey as a child actor in the smash-hit comedy Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Showbiz Kids narrates the story of now-grown actors who were once famous child actors.
Wil Wheaton (also known for Stand by Me), actress Jada Pinkett Smith (mother to two child actors, Willow and Jaden, of which the latter has already faced the ruthless treatment of Hollywood), Henry Thomas (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial), Mara Wilson (Mrs. Doubtfire, Matilda), Milla Jovovich (Return to the Blue Lagoon), Cameron Boyce (who was last seen posthumously in the HBO series, Mrs. Fletcher), the late Diana Serra Cary, popularly known for playing Baby Peggy in silent films, and many others appear in the documentary.
Showbiz Kids highlights the hell child actors are subjected to in Hollywood, particularly the emotional abuse they went through, which heightened in cases where the actor in question never wanted to enter the industry as a child.
“I gave up my childhood for this industry, and it wasn’t my choice,” says Wil Wheaton. “I don’t know a seven year old who’s like, ‘What I want to do is go to work.'”
It wasn’t just his parents pushing him into the limelight, there were also countless instances where his sentiments were hurt without a single regard to the fact that at the end of the day he is just a child. Wil Wheaton shared the memory of being relentlessly bullied when, after taking a bite of a brownies, his teeth weren’t clean. There were also critics who didn’t think twice before harshly criticizing him.
As we go further into Showbiz Kids, we get recollections of actors who entered the industry as kids and have bad, sometimes harrowing, memories of the time. Milla Jovovich shares how she was thrown into the industry by a mother who wanted a taste of the stardom she herself couldn’t, the relentless coverage that the Disney star, while Cameron Boyce (who died owing to an existing condition of epilepsy last year) was subjected to the relentless coverage of even his personal life.
Evan Rachel Wood admits that “no one ever asked me how I was doing,” while Todd Bridges shares that he was sexually abused by his publicist when he was 11.
Showbiz Kids pushes you to ponder the next time you see a child actor on screen- is the smile on their face as fictional as the characters they play? Are they too paying the price of stardom in an industry that ruthlessly subjects a child to hordes of paparazzi or barbed criticisms without a single thought?