‘Crazy Rich Asians’ director and cast support writer Adele Lim in pay dispute

"Crazy Rich Asians" director Jon M. Chu
“Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu addressed the pay-disparity drama surrounding screenwriter Adele Lim on the film’s upcoming sequel.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The talent behind “Crazy Rich Asians” has come to the defense of a writer who quit the film’s sequel over a pay disparity.

Director Jon M. Chu and actors Gemma Chan, Awkwafina and Henry Golding on Monday stood by screenwriter Adele Lim, who had been hired by Chu but reportedly could not reach a deal with producers after learning that co-writer Peter Chiarelli netted a much higher fee than she did.

Chu endeavored to explain the backstory on Monday, posting a lengthy missive on social media that said he stood with his “sister and co-conspirator” Lim but that “negotiations are tough” and messy.

The director shed some light on protracted negotiations. He said that studios usually lowball talent when making offers and the talent usually come into negotiations with high asks. Then, “Everyone enters the process knowing there’ll be lots of back-and-forth.


“But because I am close with Adele, when I discovered she was unhappy with the initial offer, the producers, myself and studio executives leapt into action to ensure we got to a place of parity between the two writers at a significant number,” Chu wrote in a statement shared on Twitter. “It was both educational and powerful to hear all the facets of the debate. Unfortunately by the time we came up with several different ways to satisfy everyone’s needs, a lot of time had passed and she declined the offer.”

Writer Adele Lim says she was offered significantly less to work on the “Crazy Rich Asians” sequel than her white male colleague was. So she walked.

According to a report in the Hollywood Reporter last week, Lim said she was offered a small fraction of the money that had been offered to Chiarelli last fall. After five months of looking for another Asian writer, the studio came back to Lim in February with a higher offer, closer to her co-writer’s, but she passed on the job. Chiarelli even offered to split his fee with her, but she declined.

Chu said that he was proud Lim was able to stand up for her own measure of worth and walk away when she felt like she was being undervalued. He said he hopes to work with her on future projects and is leaving the door open for that too.

The filmmaker also said he was glad that the conversation the controversy started is “much more important than ourselves (and the movie sequels, frankly).”

“I agree with Adele that parity for women and people of color is crucial to the continued enlightenment of our industry and we still have a long way to go,” he wrote. “What I discovered personally through this process is there are still things to debate amongst ourselves (like value of experience vs. lack of opportunity, TV vs. film writing, work experience vs. life experience, creative contribution valuations etc.) which I am sure won’t be simple answers but I know we must try to figure it out to keep the needle moving.”

Chu also asked that his community not go after Chiarelli, explaining that the writer wrote two drafts of the script months before Chu joined the project with Lim and that he came back to work on the movie before they started shooting.

Chiarelli had already penned what Lim told The Times last year was “a great script” based on author Kevin Kwan’s book, and Chu recruited Lim to bolster the female protagonist’s point of view. Lim, a veteran TV writer, had not written for film before 2018’s blockbuster “Crazy Rich Asians.”

For more than a decade and a half, screenwriter Adele Lim had worked her way up through an impressive résumé in television, writing on shows including “One Tree Hill,” “Life Unexpected,” “Reign” and “Star-Crossed.”

“He is a good man, a creative force and has been a pro in the business for many many years, doing many uncredited re-writes,” Chu wrote.

But neither Chiarelli, Lim nor Chu is the author of the film in the end, he said, crediting the producers, Kwan and other crew working on the sequel.

Actress Chan, who plays the posh Astrid in the film, retweeted Chu’s statement and also said she stands with Lim.

"[I] fully support her, as I do every person fighting for pay equity,” she tweeted. “Pay disparity disproportionately affects women and POC [people of color] and there is still a long way to go — both in the conversation and how to rectify it. We can and must do better, faster.”

Lim responded to her with a raised fist emoji.

“Crazy Rich Asians” stars Golding, who plays the film’s male lead, and Nico Santos also retweeted Chu’s statement. Awkwafina, another of the film’s breakout comedic stars, on Tuesday wrote: “I stand and will continue to stand with @adeleBlim — thank you for this and for shedding more light on a conversation that should be had @jonmchu”

Over the weekend, Lim tweeted that she was thankful to everyone who voiced their support for her.

“It’s been a week. My gratitude to the countless people who voiced their support. To people going through their own fight — you are not alone,” she wrote. “Also, I have only love for @jonmchu and the cast & crew of #CRA. It was/is a movement and I’ll always root for its continued success.”