"Crazy Rich Asians" co-writer leaves sequel over pay disparity
Photo By: Vanity Fair
Mason Bennett, S&T Editor
The popular comedy/drama film from 2018, “Crazy Rich Asians,” is seeing some controversy among the writers in the midst of production of a sequel. Despite the movie’s overwhelming success upon its debut in August of 2018, skyrocketing to the top of the box office was not enough to conceal a pay disparity among the crew.
Adele Lim, a co-writer of the film, discovered that she was being paid less than her counterpart writer, Peter Chiarelli, and left the production team on September 5th. Lim shares in an interview with THR that she can’t help but feel cheated out of a great opportunity: “Being evaluated that way can’t help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions.” Even though Lim wasn’t willing to share exact numbers with reporters, some sources stated that Warner Bros.’ offered Chiarelli 800,000 to one million dollars, compared to at least 110,000 dollars offered to Lim. Warner Bros.’ proceeded to defend themselves, claiming that these rates are standard to the industry and are solely based on experience with film projects.
Sometime after she left the company, Warner Bros.’ contacted Lim and offered to raise her rate for the sequel. Furthermore, Chiarelli even volunteered to split his fee with her, but Lim ultimately rejected the proposals. “Pete has been nothing but incredibly gracious, but what I make shouldn’t be dependent on the generosity of the white guy writer,” Lim said. “If I couldn’t get pay equity after ‘CRA,’ I can’t imagine what it would be like for anyone else, given that the standard for how much you’re worth is having established quotes from previous movies, which women of color would never have been hired for. There’s no realistic way to achieve true equity that way.” Thankfully, Lim’s career is far from over, and she is determined to not let this get in her way as she moves up in the film industry. Lim is working on a Disney animated project to be released in November of 2020 called “Raya and the Last Dragon.”
Contrary to popular belief, women and people of color are typically hired in Hollywood to contribute culturally specific details in TV shows and movies, rather than being credited to the intense work and character development that goes into crafting story: “There was initial interest from a producer who wanted to change the main character Rachel Chu into a white girl,” said Kevin Kwan, author of the book series the film adapted to, “I tell that story to book clubs in suburban middle America and they go crazy: ‘Why does Hollywood think we would want to see this movie with white people?’” This was Kwan’s response to an interview question in 2015, addressing the understandable public appeal of films holding some sense of accuracy to the books they may portray.
Lim’s case is unique, however, because the pay gap she experienced is larger than anything the film industry has witnessed to date—it is impossible to ignore. This is another prime example that represents the systemic inequalities that persist in Hollywood to this day, and the conversation requires a closer look.