Malaysian screenwriter for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ leaves due to wage inequality

The theatrical release of Crazy Rich Asians in 2018 proved to be a financial success in the US and globally. (Image credit: Warner Brothers Pictures)

PETALING JAYA: When Crazy Rich Asians first hit cinemas and proved to be a massive blockbuster, the film was touted as a means for Asians to finally earn their representation in Hollywood.

Whether this is true is left to be seen, as behind-the-scenes, racial and gender biases have proven to be very much alive in the moviemaking industry.

Malaysian-born Adele Lim for instance walked away from the production of the two upcoming sequels, her reasoning being the wage gap between her and co-writer, Peter Chiarelli.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the production company, Warner Bros offered Chiarelli US$800,000 to US$1 million but around US$110,000 for Lim.

While Chiarelli has a long career of writing for hit movies, Crazy Rich Asians was Lim’s first time writing for a full feature film rather than the television shows she was involved with previously.

Warner Bros apparently tried to justify itself to Lim, stating that pay depended on the experience of a potential employee, and making an exemption for her would be a bad business precedent.

A report from Vox stated that because of the film’s success, it ought to have resulted in everyone involved getting a pay raise.

Hence, the two possible explanations as to the sum offered to Lim are either that Warner Bros did not think it had to pay up or that the studio thought that the sum was itself a big pay rise.

The difference in salaries is rather noticeable nonetheless, and Lim, who was hired by director Jon M Chu expressed her belief that women and people of colour are hired just to make films feel culturally authentic rather than actually be culturally authentic.

“Being evaluated that way can’t help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions,” Lim said.

Matters have also become somewhat complicated with Lim’s dealings with Disney, as she is working on an upcoming Southeast Asian feature film, but she said Disney was willing to let her work on the Crazy Rich Asians film first.

After Lim left the project, an effort was made to draw her back when she was then offered a salary closer to Chiarelli’s, who also offered to split his salary with her.

To this, she said, “Pete has been nothing but incredibly gracious, but what I make shouldn’t be dependent on the generosity of the white-guy writer.

“If I couldn’t get pay equity after CRA, 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 colour would never have been [hired for]. There’s no realistic way to achieve true equity that way.”

Production of the sequel started not too long ago, with Chiarelli already having turned in a draft and ongoing discussions on how to adapt the books.

With the matter about the salary disparity now out in the open, it is to be seen if Warner Bros will be wary of the unwanted attention the issue garners and if it will work to remedy matters for the sake of appearances.