Malaysian born screenwriter Adele Lim’s name may not directly appear on the Oscar’s website, but her influence can still be felt throughout the award.
As reported by Yahoo News, Raya and the Last Dragon, a film Lim co-wrote with Qui Nguyen, has been nominated for Best Animated Feature. The recognition of the film marks another high point in Lim’s decorated career, which has brought much needed Asian American representation to Hollywood.
Before Raya and the Last Dragon, Lim gained fame for co-writing the blockbuster hit Crazy Rich Asians (2018), which she described as a “love letter to Malaysia” in an interview with Malaysiakini.
“I grew up in a crazy Chinese Malaysian family so everything that I wrote, for the first time in my career, I didn’t have to put it through the lens of a white American male.”
“I could just tell the stories of us,” she added.
Despite this freedom, however, Lim still felt constrained. She soon made headlines for completely different reasons: she suddenly departed from the Crazy Rich Asian franchise, disrupting the production of the film’s sequel.
Lim told The Hollywood Reporter that her departure was motivated by the pay gap between her salary and the other lead writer on the production, a White male. To her, the salary disparity reflected how women and people of color’s voices were treated like “soy sauce,” adding hints of cultural flavor without sufficient compensation or credit.
Working on Raya and the Last Dragon, meanwhile, gave Lim a chance to continue exploring her Southeast Asian background in more depth, which she had started to do with Crazy Rich Asians. As she told Variety, the opportunity to feature her culture in another major film thrilled her.
“To be a part of this where the place where I grew up was going to be the central inspiration and to have a Disney heroine, a warrior princess so that my daughter can look at and see her face reflected, means the world to me.”
Raya gave Lim the chance to explore the parts of her that were “always parked in a box somewhere,” hidden from mainstream storytelling media. Though she told Screenrant that she was immediately drawn to producer Osnat Shurer’s pitch of a “young Asian female who’s a kickass warrior, and a dragon,” she made sure to highlight essential parts of Southeast Asian culture, such as authentic food and history.
Above all, she wanted to highlight the people: the sense of community that she felt tied cultures like hers together.
“It can feel like a catchphrase, but when we talk about all the diverse cultures and traditions and histories of Southeast Asia, the one main thread running through all of it is how important our community is – not just for our survival, but for our happiness and our joy,” she told Screenrant. “So, we knew that we wanted that to be a big part of the story as well.”
Southeast Asian community and culture: these are aspects that have long been overlooked within mainstream Hollywood. As Lim told Malaysiakini, nothing is more paramount than telling the stories of women of color, who have been historically overlooked by the industry.
“Instead of constantly writing the White guy hero story that I was doing on TV for many years, we should say: ‘No, there are other stories,’” Lim said. “’Now you know that they are as amazing and as compelling and as profitable as all the other stories out there.’”
Ultimately, nothing confirms that more than the nomination of a Southeast Asian-inspired film, written by a Malaysian screenwriter and created by a team of Southeast Asian creatives, at the nation’s biggest and most prestigious film festival.
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