Despite some incremental and largely cosmetic victories, Hollywood is a hostile place for women, particularly women of color. Here’s one recent example: According to the Hollywood Reporter, Crazy Rich Asians co-screenwriter Adele Lim left the forthcoming sequel when she found she was making nearly eight to 10 times less than her fellow co-writer, Peter Chiarelli, a white man.
Chiarelli was initially hired to adapt Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel Crazy Rich Asians into a screenplay for the original film, and Lim was later hired to cowrite by director Jon M Chu. When she eventually walked out on the sequel last fall, Color Force, the studio behind the project, subsequently spent “about five months fielding other writers of Asian descent for the job,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. That behavior seems to illustrate the way Lim was tokenized by the studio—though THR reports that Chu tried to keep her on, the pair were not equals from the jump—and judging by the pay discrepancy, she was treated like one.
A source told THR that “Warner Bros.’ starting offers were $800,000 to $1 million for Chiarelli and $110,000-plus for Lim,” and added that those numbers were “industry-standard established ranges based on experience and that making an exception would set a troubling precedent in the business.” Naturally, Lim walked away, and a few months later Chiarelli offered her half of his salary to reach some semblance of parity. She still said no, and now she’s my fucking hero.
“Being evaluated that way can’t help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions,” Lim told the Hollywood Reporter, “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.”
It’s perhaps ironic that Lim’s story broke on the day San Diego State University’s Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film published their 22nd annual Boxed In 2018-19: Women On Screen and Behind the Scenes in Television report, whose findings some publications have championed as proof that women have reached “historic highs” “both on and off screen” in the last year. In reality, participation numbers never tell the full story. The study notes that 45 percent of all speaking characters across comedies, dramas, and reality shows on broadcast, cable, and streaming were women—up from 40 percent in 2017-2018—and that 31 percent of all creators, directors, writers, executive producers, producers, editors, and directors of photography in television were women, up from 28 percent in 2016-2017. And sure, those numbers may look like progress on paper, but the majority of those gains have been disproportionately enjoyed by white women. In fact, for black women and Latinas, there was actually a decline in behind-the-scenes roles: White women made up 70 percent of those figures (up 3 percent from past years), 17 percent were black women (down 2 percent from the previous survey), 7 percent Asian (up 1 percent), and 6 percent Latina (down 1 percent).
While that report doesn’t delve into gender pay discrepancy specifically, it does show that while things may seem like they are improving in Hollywood—say, the success of Crazy Rich Asians, which opened at No. 1 in the box office and ranked in nearly $238.5 million global gross—there’s still so much more work to be done.