Niki Caro, the director of Disney’s live-action Mulan spoke out against Hollywood’s “horrific” prejudice against female directors.
Speaking at New Zealand’s inaugural Power of Inclusion Summit on Thursday, Caro noted that when she was awarded her first big break in 2005, “only four percent of directors were women.” However, she, continued, “Fifteen years on, that hasn’t changed” calling opportunities for women “horrific.”
Caro said that she was drawn to the Chinese-based Mulan story because it was a distinctly female tale, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“Essentially, it’s about a young woman who comes to understand, appreciate and respect her own power,” Caro said, adding, “the action in this film really had to come from character.”
Caro also said that simply being a woman helped her bring the film in sooner than expected and under budget.
“They ask themselves why, and I tell them it’s because the film was run by women,” Caro exclaimed. “Of course, you know, being women, we are extremely well prepared, and we were extremely communicative.”
Still, she claimed that the film industry “fears and resents” women in charge.
“They receive me with anything on a sliding scale, sort of, from suspicion through fear, to resentment,” she said. “It takes a little while to convince everybody that there is nothing to be afraid of.”
“As far as the film industry goes, it occurs to me that 50 percent of the people are holding 100 percent of the power, and they are not necessarily willing to give that up easily, Caro surmised. “I also think that there’s something very disturbing at some primal level about giving women power, and to be a director is to hold a lot of power.”
The Zookeeper’s Wife helmer also slammed Hollywood for discounting mothers in the film business. She recounted a discussion with a producer who scoffed at motherhood.
“So, I swear I did kilometers of walking around the kitchen table while I was on conference calls with L.A. from New Zealand, trying to figure out whose voice was whose, but also trying to keep the baby quiet,” Caro claimed. “One thing Hollywood doesn’t particularly like is a baby in the mix. In fact, I went to meet the producer of a film for the first time, and he said, ‘You’re not lugging a whole bunch of kids around the world while you try to make films, are you?’ And I said, ‘No.'”
“I was pregnant at the time,” she added, “but he obviously couldn’t tell.”
Still, Caro’s helming of the film was not without some controversy. Some accused the studio of a sort of racism by having a westerner direct a film based on a Chinese legend. Caro was met with questions at the summit about why she was given the job to direct the film instead of an Asian director.
A member of the audience asked how she “reconcile[d] taking the amazing and deserved opportunity to direct Mulan with the critique that perhaps the story should have been directed by someone of Chinese origin?”
In reply, Caro insisted that Hong Kong producer Bill Kong advised Disney to hire someone outside o China to direct the project.
“It was Bill who said to Disney that, ‘Actually, this is a Disney film.’ It’s certainly about Chinese culture and a terribly old and important story there,” Caro replied. “But the other culture to contend with is the culture of Disney. It’s a very strong culture in the world that reaches many, many people. And so, between them, it was determined that they would widely search for directors that weren’t solely Chinese.”
Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.