Crazy Rich Asians co-writer Adele Lim has spoken out about an alleged pay disparity between herself and a white male colleague, highlighting how women and people of colour are all too often exploited for their creativity.
Jon M. Chu’s groundbreaking 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians had everything: comedy, romance, and finally, positive representation of the Asian American community thanks to its entire Asian-American cast, the first major Hollywood film to do so since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. What the franchise doesn’t have, apparently, is equal pay.
Adele Lim, a screenwriter of the historic romantic comedy, and a would-be writer on the upcoming sequel, has quit the project due to alleged issues of pay disparity.
According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lim, who is of Chinese-Malaysian heritage, has stepped away from the sequel due to a significant pay disparity between herself and her white male colleague, Peter Chiarelli, who also serves as a co-screenwriter on the films.
If you’re wondering what kind of pay gap we’re talking about here, the publication reported that Lim’s starting offer was in the region of $110,000-plus, compared to Chiarelli’s $800,000 to $1 million, and if those figures are accurate, it’s hardly surprising Lim walked.
Why the shocking pay gap, you’re probably wondering? According to THR, Warner Bros’ rationalised the stark difference in salaries based on the writers’ prior experience. While Chiarelli’s credits include The Proposal and Now You See Me 2, Lim’s first screenwriting credit was the 2018 blockbuster. However, she has an impressive back-catalogue of TV experience, thanks to her work on shows such as Dynasty, Reign, Private Practice and One Tree Hill.
However, even taking into account the screenwriters’ CVs, there’s simply no way to justify the fact that Lim would stand to make merely an eighth of Chiarelli’s pay packet. Quite aside from the astonishing pay disparity, this is a Hollywood blockbuster that made $238 million worldwide at the box office, and that Lim’s sequel salary would be so low after that success is problematic on a whole new level.
To give Chiarelli his due, THR reported that the screenwriter had offered to split his fee with Lim during negotiations. Lim declined, as she quite rightly hoped that the studio would level the playing field. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be.
Speaking to the publication, she highlighted the discrepancies that exist both between genders as well as between white writers and those of colour.
“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 also told THR that all too often, women and people of colour are brought onto projects as “soy sauce” in order to give the feel of cultural authenticity on TV and film, without being fully committed to allowing them to substantially shape the stories themselves.
“Being evaluated that way can’t help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions,” said Lim, who departed from the project last year.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s novels, the next book in the Crazy Rich Asians series is China Rich Girlfriend. And though Lim is no longer on board to write the sequel, she is lined up to work on the upcoming Disney film Raya and the Last Dragon. With progress slow on tackling Hollywood’s stubborn pay inequity, Lim’s transparency will hopefully go some way to challenging the culture and help women and people of colour to be compensated fairly for their creativity.
Images: Getty, Warner Bros.