It's been a year since "Crazy Rich Asians" opened No. 1 at the box office, grossed $238.5 million worldwide and became a groundbreaking display of Asian-American representation in the entertainment industry.
Now, the blockbuster's two sequels, adapted from best-selling author Kevin Kwan's trilogy, are on hold — and a pay discrepancy is to blame.
Adele Lim, a co-writer for the first film, has left the project due to a pay discrepancy between herself and her male colleague Peter Chiarelli, according to The Hollywood Reporter. According to sources, Lim, a veteran TV writer whose breakout feature film was working on the "Crazy Rich Asians" screenplay, was offered $110,000-plus to work on the follow-up, a small fraction of the $800,000 to $1 million on the table for Chiarelli.
"Being evaluated that way can't help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions," Lim tells THR.
Lim originally walked from the Warner Bros deal last fall and another counteroffer in February that still wasn't the amount she felt was fair. The entertainment company reportedly explained to Lim's representatives that the quotes were industry-standard ranges based on experience, and that making an exception would set a troubling precedent in the business.
Lim began her Hollywood TV career in 2000 and has worked on series including "One Tree Hill," "Private Practice" and "Lethal Weapon." Her co-writer, Chiarelli, found his big break in Hollywood writing for the movie "The Proposal" in 2009. After learning about the discrepancy between himself and his co-writer, Chiarelli reportedly volunteered to split his higher earnings with her to reach parity.
"Pete has been nothing but incredibly gracious, but what I make shouldn't be dependent on the generosity of the white-guy writer," Lim tells THR. "If I couldn't get pay equity after ["Crazy Rich Asians"], 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."
Working on "Crazy Rich Asians" was like writing "the love letter to my people I never had a chance to write," the Malaysian-born writer and producer has said. She was hired directly by director Jon Chu in an effort to add cultural specificity, as well as emotional authenticity, to the script — a requirement before Michelle Yeoh, who plays the film's matriarch Eleanor Young, agreed to sign on. Together with Chu, Lim created a pivotal scene original to the movie — in which Eleanor and her would-be daughter-in-law play a charged game of mahjong — that the director calls the most important of the film.
Lim told THR she believes women and people of color are often regarded as "soy sauce," meaning she sees diversity hires being made to sprinkle culturally-specific details on a screenplay rather than substantially craft it from the ground up.
Lim joined the "Crazy Rich Asians" screenwriting team after the film's production studio had already enlisted Chiarelli's work. The studio spent five months fielding other writers of Asian descent after Lim turned down the job the first time, before it came back with another (unsuccessful) offer.
The news joins many other headlines of women in Hollywood being paid much less than their male peers — according to Forbes's latest list, the top 10 highest-paid actresses this year made almost $300 million less than the highest-paid actors — and is a reminder that the industry-wide discrepancies occur behind the camera, too.
In some instances, public pressure has helped women actors earn pay parity, as in the cases of Claire Foy and Michelle Williams. But as of now, Lim is focused on other major projects, including a Disney animated feature "Raya and the Last Dragon," with a storyline influenced by Southeast Asian mythology, set to release in November 2020.
On the "Crazy Rich Asians" front, progress is moving forward slowly. Chu and Chiarelli delivered the first draft of a 10-page treatment to the studio in July. It's estimated the remaining sequels will shoot back-to-back no earlier than the end of 2020.
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