You are here

Crazy Rich Asians writer says she's leaving sequel because of pay disparity

Adele Lim's departure puts a wrench in Chu's plans to keep the cast and production team intact for the upcoming sequels based on Kwan's other books.


A FEMALE screenwriter for the popular film Crazy Rich Asians has left the Warner Bros sequel over what she alleges was a pay disparity with a white male counterpart.

Adele Lim, a veteran television writer who helped to bring Singaporean author Kevin Kwan's book to life last year, said in a Hollywood Reporter story on Tuesday that she was offered significantly less than co-screenwriter Peter Chiarelli to work on the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, a blockbuster hit that was lauded for bringing Asian-American narratives to a mainstream audience and boosting the profile of underrepresented Asian American actors in Hollywood.

Lim's publicist confirmed to The Washington Post on Tuesday that the pay disparity was why she left the project.

The screenwriter declined to provide exact numbers, but according to sources who spoke to the Hollywood Reporter, her starting offer was US$110,000 - nearly one tenth of the US$800,000 to US$1 million offered to Chiarelli. Lim said she believes women and people of colour tend to be brought onto projects as "soy sauce", tasked and credited with adding cultural texture but not with the heavy work of storytelling.

"Being evaluated that way can't help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions," Lim told The Hollywood Reporter.

Lim, who has worked on shows such as One Tree Hill and Private Practice, said in a 2018 interview with the Los Angeles Times that director Jon M Chu tapped her to join Chiarelli in adapting Kwan's books for screen because the film has a female protagonist - played by Constance Wu - and he wanted a female perspective in the writer's room.

Lim's departure puts a wrench in Chu's plans to keep the cast and production team intact for the upcoming sequels based on Kwan's other books, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

In recent years, female actors and actors of colour have made similar departures from projects in an effort to bridge the well-documented wage gap. In 2017, Asian-American actors Daniel Dae Kim and Grace Park left the television show Hawaii Five-0 due to alleged pay disparities with their white colleagues.

Later that year, former "E! News" anchor Catt Sadler delivered a teary on-screen goodbye to audiences, writing later, "how can I operate with integrity and stay on at E if they're not willing to pay me the same as (co-host Jason Kennedy)?"

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Chiarelli, whose other writing credits include Now You See Me 2 and The Proposal, offered to split his fee with Lim, but she declined the gesture.

"Pete has been nothing but incredibly gracious, but what I make shouldn't be dependent on the generosity of the white-guy writer," she said. "If I couldn't get pay equity after CRA, I can't imagine what it would be like for anyone else."

Lim, a Chinese Malaysian, was celebrated for bringing authenticity to Crazy Rich Asians as one of the few screenwriters from Southeast Asia, where Kwan's books are set.

"When I came on, we basically talked about how I grew up in this culture," she said. "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."

In an interview with Awards Daily, she said she and Chu went out of their way to get "little cultural details" just right.

"Even if it goes over the head of the mainstream audience, the Southeast Asians of the world can see it was very much done for them," she said. "It's very much a love letter to all those people." Chiarelli and Chu did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Warner Bros. declined to comment. WP