First-time filmmaker Jamie Johnson, a 23-year-old heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical fortune, captures the rituals, worries and social customs of the young Trumps, Vanderbilts, Newhouses and Bloombergs in the documentary special, BORN RICH, a 2003 Sundance Film Festival selection. Offering candid insights into the privileges and burdens of inheriting more money than most people will earn in a lifetime.
Narrated by Johnson, a history student at New York University, and filmed over a three-year period, BORN RICH spotlights ten young adults who came into the world knowing they would never have to work a day in their lives. These society-column names speak frankly about the one subject they all know is taboo: money.
With his unfettered access to this rarified subculture, Johnson explores topics such as the anxieties of being “cut off,” and the misconception that money can solve all problems. “Most wealthy people are told from a very young age not to talk about money,” notes Johnson. “Consequently, they are extremely reluctant to speak to people about their backgrounds. Also, many of the subjects in my film already have more public recognition than they may want, and have very little to gain by receiving more.” Among the peers Johnson interviews are: Josiah Hornblower, heir to the Vanderbilt and Whitney fortunes; S.I. Newhouse IV, of the Conde Nast Newhouses; Ivanka Trump, daughter of Donald Trump; and Georgianna Bloomberg, daughter of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
The story begins with the advent of the filmmaker’s 21st birthday, and his mingled anticipation and fear of receiving his portion of the family inheritance. Unsure about the future direction of his own life, Johnson decides to document the experiences of his privileged peers in dealing with their family’s legacies. He explores their candid perspectives on subjects ranging from life philosophies and trust funds to prenuptial agreements and career choices, ultimately revealing their common struggle to discover their own identity.