A year after Crazy Rich Asians opened No. 1 at the box office (on its way to a $238.5 million global gross) and raised Asian representation in Hollywood to new heights, its sequels have been slow to launch.
Although director Jon M. Chu had hoped to keep the creative team intact, co-writer Adele Lim no longer is involved with the project, The Hollywood Reporter has learned. At issue is pay parity: Co-writer Peter Chiarelli, as an experienced feature scribe who broke out with 2009’s The Proposal, was to be paid a significantly higher fee than Lim, a veteran TV writer who never had penned a feature until Chu hired her to work on the screenplay. (Before Chu boarded the project, producers Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson of Color Force already had enlisted Chiarelli to adapt Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling novel.)
“Being evaluated that way can’t help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions,” says Lim, who believes that women and people of color often are regarded as “soy sauce” — hired to sprinkle culturally specific details on a screenplay, rather than credited with the substantive work of crafting the story.
She declined to provide specific figures, but sources say that Warner Bros.’ starting offers were $800,000 to $1 million for Chiarelli and $110,000-plus for Lim. Warners explained to Lim’s reps that the quotes are industry-standard established ranges based on experience and that making an exception would set a troubling precedent in the business. The talks escalated to studio chairman Toby Emmerich, who backed his business affairs department’s stance.
Complicating matters was the fact that Lim had already inked a first-position contract with Disney Animation for four years. But the Malaysian-born writer, who is penning its Southeast Asian mythology-influenced feature Raya and the Last Dragon, says that Disney would have been willing to do a “carve out” on her availability.
After Lim walked away from a deal last fall, Color Force spent about five months fielding other writers of Asian descent for the job. (Chu, who was prepping to shoot Warners’ In the Heights, was not involved.) They came back to Lim in February with an offer closer to parity with Chiarelli, who had volunteered to split his fee with her, but 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,” she says. “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.”
For now, work on the sequels is slowly moving forward. Chiarelli, writing with Chu, delivered the first draft of a 10-page treatment to the studio in late July, and they’re still exploring how much of the source material — Kwan’s trilogy includes 2015’s China Rich Girlfriend and 2017’s Rich People Problems — to adapt.
Although Crazy Rich Asians‘ film adaptation deviates from the first novel in key aspects — the book ends with Nick (Henry Golding) and Rachel (Constance Wu) together but not engaged and estranged from Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), while Astrid (Gemma Chan) is still with her husband — and the book sequels are light on certain film fan favorites, such as Awkwafina’s Peik Lin, the hope is to reunite all the breakouts from the film, many of whom have become hotly in demand, and bring other characters only teased in the first film to the forefront (namely Astrid’s love interest Charlie, played by Harry Shum Jr). The actors are currently under option, and though they are rapidly booking other projects and even franchises, scheduling isn’t expected to impact sequel plans, which at this rate would shoot back-to-back and no sooner than the end of 2020.
“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,” Chu tells THR. “There’s still too much work to do. Our focus isn’t on the timeline, it’s on getting the story right.”
A version of this story appeared in the Sept. 4 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.