When “Crazy Rich Asians” hit the big screen last year, it was 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.
Now, Adele Lim, a veteran television writer who helped adapt Singaporean author Kevin Kwan’s book for the screen, has left the Warner Bros. sequel. Why? In a Hollywood Reporter story Tuesday, Lim said she was offered significantly less than co-screenwriter Peter Chiarelli to work on the film.
Lim, a Chinese Malaysian, was celebrated for bringing authenticity to “Crazy Rich Asians” as one of the only screenwriters from Southeast Asia, where Kwan’s books are set.
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 $110,000 — a little more than one-tenth of the $800,000 to $1 million offered to Chiarelli. Lim said she believes women and people of color tend to be brought onto projects as “soy sauce,” tasked and credited with adding cultural texture but not with the heavy work of storytelling.
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 writers’ 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 color 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” because of alleged pay disparities between them and 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.
“When I came on, we basically talked about how I grew up in this culture,” she added. “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 a separate 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.