Sequels for Crazy Rich Asians were fast-tracked after the Asian cast-led romantic comedy defied Hollywood expectations with praise from critics and debuting at number one at the box office.
The two sequels that are based on the Crazy Rich Asians (CRA) trilogy of books written by Kevin Kwan—including 2015's China Rich Girlfriend and 2017's Rich People Problems— were to be filmed back-to-back to meet the demands of the cast's working schedules.
Now, the films are off to a crippling start in the writer's room before it even begins.
The Hollywood Reporter was the first to learn that Adele Lim, who was chosen by the CRA director Jon M. Chu as a co-writer for the eponymous 2018 film and would-be writer of the greenlit sequels, has officially dropped out over a wage dispute.
CRA co-writer Peter Chiarelli, known for his work as a writer on 2009's The Proposal, was to be paid a significantly higher salary than that of Lim, whose work prior to CRA was as a co-producer and writer for TV shows like Lethal Weapon and Dynasty.
The Malaysian-born writer said that many women of color are often regarded as "soy sauce"—hired solely to spice up a screenplay with authentic, cultural sensibilities rather than having a significant voice in telling the story.
"Being evaluated that way can't help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions."
THR cited unnamed sources saying that Chiarelli was set to make $800,000 to $1 million, while Lim was only offered "$110,000" for the forthcoming sequels with the possibility of bonuses that would still put her far behind her co-writer.
Studios rely on "quotes" to determine the price points in hiring a writer. Those quotes are based on the amount of work a writer has done on feature films, making the TV veteran the proverbial small fish in a big pond that is Tinseltown. But for many women, the doors to feature films are closed to them making a decidedly gender based pay gap.
Studio execs fear that making an exception for one writer would set a precedent they are not willing to contend with.
Lim walked away last fall, leaving Color Force production company scrambling to find a replacement. The studio came back to Lim in February after coming up dry and offered a deal "closer in parity" to Chiarelli, who offered to split his fee with her.
Lim kindly declined Chiarelli's offer, saying:
"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 color would never have been [hired for]. There's no realistic way to achieve true equity that way."
Alexander Woo, a producer and writer known for True Blood (2008) and recently for The Terror (2019), was outraged over the industry's wage gap.
For now, the sequels are moving forward, albeit sputtering along with Chiarelli and director Chu delivering the first draft for a 10-page treatment to Warner Bros., who is distributing the films.
Despite the pre-production hiccup, Chu is intent on delivering worthy sequels to honor the first film.
"There's too much responsibility and too much precedent from the first movie that the last thing I want to do is just hit a date and release the movie."
"There's still too much work to do. Our focus isn't on the timeline, it's on getting the story right."
Lim previously signed a four-year first-position contract with Disney Animation—for which she is writing the upcoming 2020 animated Southeast Asian film Raya and the Last Dragon—but said that Disney would have been willing to allow her time off for scripting duties on the CRA sequels.
CRA made over $238 million worldwide making it the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade and revived a genre that Hollywood thought was dead.
It was the first major studio film in a contemporary setting led by an all-Asian cast not seen since 1993's Joy Luck Club.
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