Hol­ly­wood pay gap is alive and well

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ writer Adele Lim il­lus­trates dilemma

The Korea Times - - ENTERTAINM­ENT - By Nina Metz

With a world­wide box of­fice of more than $238 mil­lion, “Crazy Rich Asians” was a hit for Warner Bros. and a se­quel was in­evitable. But a re­cent story in The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter has re­vealed a ma­jor hic­cup in those plans.

Two peo­ple are cred­ited as screen­writ­ers on the orig­i­nal movie, Peter Chiarelli (a white man) and Adele Lim (an Asian woman orig­i­nally from Malaysia), who adapted the book — the first in a se­ries by au­thor Kevin Kwan.

But as re­ported by THR, Lim has walked away from the “Crazy Rich Asians” se­quel af­ter learn­ing that the stu­dio’s ini­tial of­fer to Chiarelli was in the $800,000 to $1 mil­lion range; Lim was of­fered a frac­tion of that at “$110,000-plus.”

Warner Bros. did not re­spond to in­quiries from the Tri­bune. And Lim’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive said she was unavail­able for fur­ther in­ter­views. But the pay gap is so vast — and a high-pro­file ex­am­ple of sys­temic in­equities that per­sist in Hol­ly­wood — that it war­rants a closer look.

When Hol­ly­wood says one thing, but does an­other

“Crazy Rich Asians” was one of the few Amer­i­can-made stu­dio films to tell the story of Asian lives that is set en­tirely in the present day, star­ring an all-Asian cast. That Warner Bros. backed au­thor Kwan and direc­tor Jon M. Chu’s vi­sion is sig­nif­i­cant, be­cause as Kwan has noted sev­eral times, that wasn’t al­ways the case with other par­ties cir­cling his book.

“There was ini­tial in­ter­est from a pro­ducer who wanted to change (the hero­ine) Rachel Chu into a white girl,” he told THR in 2015. “I tell that story to book clubs in sub­ur­ban mid­dle Amer­ica and they go crazy: ‘Why does Hol­ly­wood think we would want to see this movie with white peo­ple?’”

But with Warner Bros. pro­duc­ing, Con­stance Wu was ul­ti­mately cast as the lead.

One might in­ter­pret that as the stu­dio see­ing enor­mous value in a story told from the point of view of an Asian woman.

But the Warn­ers’ of­fer to Lim sug­gests quite the op­po­site.

“Be­ing eval­u­ated that way can’t but make you feel that this is how they view my con­tri­bu­tions,” she told THR writer Re­becca Sun, who sum­ma­rized Lim’s feel­ings this way:

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.”

Un­con­scious bias

Last year I wrote about the pay gap that af­fects black ac­tresses in Hol­ly­wood and I spoke to Ohio State Univer­sity’s Ti­mothy A. Judge, who has stud­ied the way gen­der af­fects com­pen­sa­tion in Hol­ly­wood. Here’s what he told me:

“One thing we’ve learned from so­cial-psy­cho­log­i­cal re­search in the last 10 or 15 years is that when we make de­ci­sions about peo­ple — when we eval­u­ate oth­ers — we have bi­ases that carry a lot of his­tory that we don’t con­sciously process or rec­og­nize.

“So what you of­ten see is this neu­rotic ten­dency to pro­fess one set of val­ues — fair­ness — but when you look at their de­ci­sions, there’s a dis­crep­ancy.”

Ear­lier this week, “Crazy Rich Asians” direc­tor Chu posted a state­ment on Twit­ter say­ing that he stands with Lim but also that “ne­go­ti­a­tions are tough and more of­ten than not messy — no mat­ter who are you are in this in­dus­try.” Upon learn­ing of Lim’s un­hap­pi­ness with Warn­ers’ of­fer, he along with the pro­duc­ers and stu­dio ex­ec­u­tives “leapt into ac­tion to en­sure we got to a place of par­ity be­tween the two writ­ers at a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber. It was both ed­u­ca­tional and pow­er­ful to hear all facets of the de­bate.”

Imag­ine if Chu or Chiarelli had made it clear from the out­set: We know there’s a long his­tory of women of color get­ting paid less and that’s not OK — be­fore ne­go­ti­a­tions be­gin, let’s en­sure that doesn’t hap­pen. (Chicago Tri­bune/Tri­bune News)

Tri­bune News

From left, Ken Jeong, Con­stance Wu, Henry Gold­ing, Gemma Chan, Awk­wa­fina and Jing Lusi at­tend­ing the Crazy Rich Asians Pre­miere held at Ham Yard Ho­tel, Lon­don, UK, on Sept. 4, 2018.

Tri­bune News

Adele Lim ar­rives at the 50th NAACP Im­age Awards Nom­i­nees Lun­cheon held at the Loews Hol­ly­wood Ho­tel in Hol­ly­wood CA on Satur­day, March 9, 2019.

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