Taking a principled and justified stand, Crazy Rich Asians screenwriter Adele Lim has publicly announced that she will not be rejoining her co-writer Peter Chiarelli due to a jaw-dropping disparity in the offers that they each received to work on sequels of the film. Lim was instrumental in creating the authentic and culturally rich world and cast of characters that helped make the film a box-office hit around the world.
The exact figures are not available, but Lim (who is of Chinese-Malaysian descent) reportedly was offered about 10 times less than Chiarelli. Lim’s initial offer was somewhere around $100,000; Chiarelli’s was likely closer to $1 million. Warner Brothers has defended these offers as par for the course, based on the two writers’ breadth of experience. Chiarelli is a Hollywood veteran screenwriter, while Lim’s experience as a writer is in television. Crazy Rich Asians was Lim’s first feature film.
“Being evaluated that way can’t help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions,” Lim told the Hollywood Reporter. She felt that the offer cast her as the “soy sauce” writer whose sole purpose is to dress up the screenplay in culturally significant details.
The care given to these details was nonnegotiable for director Jon M. Chu, according to Lim. She told the Washington Post last fall, “When I came on, [Jon and I] basically talked about how I grew up in this culture. Important doesn’t begin to describe it when you’re talking about describing a culture and a family that the world — that America — hasn’t seen before. You want it to come from an authentic perspective.” This authenticity was something that they decided was integral to the film; they didn’t want to water it down for mainstream audiences.
With the success of Crazy Rich Asians, Chu had hoped to keep Lim on the team to adapt China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. But the pay disparity was a nonstarter for Lim, who first rejected the sequel offer from producers in the fall. The Hollywood Reporter reported that producers began looking for other Asian writers who could possibly replace Lim, before presenting her a more equitable split with Chiarelli. Chiarelli, in fact, would be helping to less this pay gap by diverting some of his pay to her.
Lim walked away, seeing the bigger picture. “Pete has been nothing but incredibly gracious, but what I make shouldn’t be dependent on the generosity of the white-guy writer,” she told the publication. “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.”