Disney's 'Mulan' Live-Action Remake to Be Directed By Niki Caro ('Whale Rider')

‘Mulan’ (Disney)
‘Mulan’ (Disney)

By Rebecca Sun, The Hollywood Reporter

Niki Caro, who broke through with the 2002 Maori family drama Whale Rider, will direct Disney’s live-action Mulan, The Hollywood Reporter has learned.

In an industry where female-helmed tentpoles are still rare, Caro will be the second woman at the studio to direct a movie budgeted at over $100 million. (Ava DuVernay is the first, with A Wrinkle in Time.)

Related: Netflix Unveils First Look at ‘Anne of Green Gables’ Reboot; Series Premiere Directed by Niki Caro

Caro’s most recent film, Focus’ upcoming The Zookeeper’s Wife, has been praised for its gender-inclusive set by its star, Jessica Chastain. Disney previously worked with Caro, a New Zealand native, on the 2015 cross-country drama McFarland, USA, for which she lived in central California for nearly a year to immerse herself in the Mexican-American community there.

Disney also considered other women for its woman-warrior project, including Wonder Woman’s Patty Jenkins and Michelle MacLaren (Breaking Bad, The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones). Caro’s hiring likely takes her out of the running for Captain Marvel, the studio’s first female-fronted superhero movie. THR reported last August that she was on the short list of directors for that film, along with Homeland’s Lesli Linka Glatter and Lorene Scafaria, who directed 2012’s Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.

Related: Hulu Nabs ‘Mulan,’ Other Disney Movies in Exclusive Subscription Streaming Deal

Disney and producers Chris Bender, Jason Reed, and Jake Weiner are taking pains to assure fans that Mulan will be culturally authentic. The studio had initially sought an Asian director for the project, meeting with Ang Lee (who passed, citing scheduling) and Rogue One star Jiang Wen, a hit director in his native China. Sony, which is developing a rival live-action film about the Chinese legend, also hoped to put an Asian director at the helm, but ultimately hired television veteran Alex Graves.

In addition to extensive conversations with Chinese cultural consultants and working closely with Disney’s own China-based team, the studio is bringing on Hong Kong-based super-producer Bill Kong as executive producer. Kong produced the most successful Chinese films to cross over — Hero, House of Flying Daggers, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, for which he received an Oscar nomination — as well as many of China’s biggest hits, including Monster Hunt, Wolf Totem, and Journey to the West.

Disney hires Niki Caro (left) to direct its live-action ‘Mulan,’ while Bill Kong (right) signs on as executive producer (Photos: Caro: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney; Kong: Han Myung-Gu/WireImage)
Disney hires Niki Caro (left) to direct its live-action ‘Mulan,’ while Bill Kong (right) signs on as executive producer (Photos: Caro: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney; Kong: Han Myung-Gu/WireImage)

Last fall, controversy briefly arose when reports surfaced that the original spec that Disney purchased, written by Lauren Hynek and Elizabeth Martin, featured non-Chinese characters, including a white male lead. Disney quickly responded that Mulan and all primary characters in its movie, which has been rewritten by Jurassic World’s Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, will remain Chinese. The studio is focusing its casting search in mainland China for the main roles, including the legendary woman warrior herself.

Related: Sony Taps ‘Game of Thrones’ Director to Helm Its Live-Action ‘Mulan’

Caro is repped by UTA, Artists House, and Lichter Grossman.

Rebecca Ford and Borys Kit contributed to this ‘Hollywood Reporter’ story