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‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Co-Writer Quits Amidst Pay Dispute, Citing Hollywood Discrimination

Adele Lim speaking at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International, for "Star-Crossed", at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California.
Adele Lim speaking at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International, for "Star-Crossed", at the San Diego Convention Center in San Diego, California. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Is Hollywood sexist or are audiences creating this disparity with their own wallets?

A female Asian writer has quit as co-writer for two upcoming sequels to the blockbuster film Crazy Rich Asians, citing that her white male co-writer was set to receive nearly ten times her salary.

Adele Lim co-wrote the original 2018 blockbuster hit Crazy Rich Asians but is also a veteran TV writer (“Dynasty”, “One Tree Hill”) and was selected by director Jon M. Chu to work on the sequels to the romantic comedy, which opened at number one at the box office last year. The movie became a critical and commercial smash, celebrated as a breakthrough in representation for Asian Americans on the big screen.

Lim’s co-writer for the original and sequel was Peter Chiarelli, who broke out as a feature writer with 2009’s The Proposal, then went on to co-write the screenplay for the original Crazy Rich Asians with Lim. However, according to IMDB.com, he has only written three features to date.

Lim explained the trivialization of women and people of color in her predicament—as often being regarded as “soy sauce”—hired to sprinkle culturally specific details on a screenplay, rather than credited with the substantive work of crafting the story.

The Malaysian-born writer declined to state her salary offer for the sequels, but sources say that Warner Bros.’ starting offers were $110,000-plus for Lim—compared to $800,000 to $1 million for Chiarelli.

Warner Bros. stated that Lim’s reps were informed that these quotes are industry-standard established ranges, based on experience. When talks escalated to studio chairman Toby Emmerich, he also backed this stance.

Sources say that Lim initially walked from this offer a year ago, prompting Warner Bros. to make an offer closer to Chiarelli’s earlier this year, who had volunteered to split his fee with her. Lim passed.

“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.

She further explained the conundrum of the standard pay rate in her field: a writer’s worth being determined by quotes from previous movies seems moot for underrepresented people such as women and minorities, who would not have obtained previous opportunities in the first place.

The issue of pay gaps, specifically between genders, has risen in Hollywood this past couple of years—most notably when actress Michelle Williams was paid a fraction of her co-star Mark Wahlberg’s salary. Again, in those scenarios, it’s presumably based on experience of the actors as well—or their proven status as box office draws. If one star has a significant track record of successful films, studios seem to prioritize them financially over a lesser known star.

Issues arise when these two stars are not the same gender, but is Hollywood sexist or are audiences creating this disparity with their own wallets? Only time will tell, if audiences are given more opportunities to let Hollywood know who they’re willing to see on screen.

Plans for shooting the two sequels to Crazy Rich Asians are tentatively set for 2020, and are based on two other books by Kevin Kwan, who wrote the original novel the film is based on.

Editors Note: This article has been updated to correct a previous version which mistakingly claimed Lim was not a co-writer on the first Crazy Rich Asians. The original 2018 Crazy Rich Asians was, in fact, co-written by both Lim and Chiarelli.  

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  1. To the writer of this article, please correct the mistakes — Peter and Adele CO-WROTE the film Crazy Rich Asians

    1. Lauren von Bernuth September 9, 2019

      Our apologies for the error! Thank you for correcting our mistake. The article has been edited to reflect that both were co-writers on the original movie.

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