Game Changers: With Disney's epic 'Mulan,' Niki Caro helms the most expensive film ever directed by a woman

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Game Changers is a Yahoo Entertainment video interview series highlighting the diverse creators disrupting Hollywood — and the pioneers who paved the way.

Niki Caro has experienced the bias against female filmmakers, sometimes in highly awkward fashion.

“More often than I care to think about, I’m mistaken for someone in the makeup department,” the New Zealand-born director told Yahoo Entertainment during our Game Changers interview filmed in March, just days before the coronavirus would shut down movie theaters and delay Mulan, her latest and most high-profile project yet, for nearly six months. “I’ve been kind of shoved aside because I’m a woman on set. It’s shocking.

“Those who shove, and those who observe the shoving, when they find out I’m the director of the film, I’ve seen jaws hit the floor. I’ve seen people scurry away in embarrassment. But you know, it’s changing.”

Caro has long been part of that change. Now with Mulan, Disney’s highly anticipated $200 million live action remix of the 1998 animated favorite, the filmmaker who first burst onto the international film scene with her tearjerking 2003 drama Whale Rider has made the most expensive film ever directed by a woman.

Niki Caro on the set of 'Mulan' (Disney)
Niki Caro on the set of Mulan. (Photo: Disney)

“That I got a great budget to do my work with made my work easier,” says Caro of Mulan, which stars Yifei Liu as the titular maiden who disguises herself as a man and enlists herself in the army to protect her elderly father from certain doom. “This film I think is the only film of this size to be run by women. A lot of the department heads were women. The three voices on the floor — which is director, DP [director of photography] and first AD [assistant director] were all women. So it was a very female-led movie. What was amazing for me was I got to take the vision in my head out onto this huge canvas for the first time in my career.”

Prior to a global pandemic drastically altering Hollywood’s release schedule, 2020 was primed to be a history-making year for women behind the camera. But it’s been a long time coming, and a long haul for Caro, long a proponent of the female gaze in filmmaking.

“When I first started filmmaking, I didn’t think it was possible. There were almost no examples when I was growing up,” she says. “I used to think I had to somehow disguise myself in some way to be able to do it. I thought that nobody would let me do it, and yet here I am. And not only doing it, but doing it on an epic scale.”

Watch the trailer:

Mulan is available to rent starting Friday, Sept. 4 on Disney+ Premier Access.

— Video produced by Gisselle Bances

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