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Niki Caro Tapped for Live Action "Mulan"

Robert here with news...

With the media saturated with controversy surrounding the portrayal of Asian peoples and cultures in film (The Great Wall staring Matt Damon in theaters this Friday!) here is a piece of interesting news: the live action Mulan film that has been in various stages of development for quite a while has reportedly found its helmer in the form of Whale Rider writer/director Niki Caro...

Caro made a huge splash in the early 2000s with Whale Rider, about a young Maori girl who challenges societal norms by wishing to become chief of her tribe. It went on to garner critical acclaim and a slew of festival awards and nominations, including an Oscar nomination for its star, the at the time thirteen year old Keisha Castle-Hughes. Caro followed up Whale Rider with the very good Charlize Theron starring North Country and then was out of the spotlight until she inexplicably directed 2015's McFarland, USA starring Kevin Costner as a grizzled old baseball coach who teaches Latino youths the power of perseverance through baseball (I'm guessing, I've not yet had the pleasure of laying my eyes upon this film).

Her film trajectory reminds us sadly of fellow one-time indie darling Patty Jenkins of Monster fame: one huge, gigantic hit that is met with a decade of industry silence. We can only speculate why neither of these woman have (thus far) had careers that have matched the promise of their first films, but I'd bet dollars to donuts if they were men they would already have half a dozen studio films and an Oscar nomination a piece between them. Hopefully with Caro's Mulan gig (there's also speculation that she'll be helming Captain Marvel) and Jenkin's Wonder Woman looking to make a major splash these women will start getting the recognition they deserve. It's also worth noting that this makes Caro only the fourth woman to be hired to direct a film with a budget over $100m. Jenkins is also on that list.

All of that being said, Caro coming on board does raise the question: should Mulan have a Chinese director? I do not subscribe to the view that stories of a certain culture can only be presented by people from said culture. On the other hand given the ways in which Hollywood has white washed pretty much all Asian cultures to the point of absurdity throughout its history perhaps a Chinese director – more specifically, a female Chinese director – would have been a more appropriate choice. On the flip side, Caro has shown both with Whale Rider and North Country that she is more than capable of carefully and empathetically exploring the intricacies of cultures that aren't her own.

So my official opinion on this development is  ~i t ' s  c o m p l i c a t e d~  and The Film Experience looks forward to hearing others, especially those from Chinese communities, weigh in.  

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Reader Comments (20)

Stop remaking classic animated film in live action! Better yet, stop remaking all classics altogether! I can't even. No one needs these, especially after Ben-Hur. Mulan is perfect as it is and this will only bring more uncomfortable controversies about basically everything.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

I agree that it's complicated. I will wait and see how it is cast before I have a clearer feeling about it. But I'm not Chinese, so I'll defer to others who have more at stake in this case.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterKJ

The Disney dollar train won't stop until they're no longer successful. Have they cast Mulan yet? My money's on Elle Fanning.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSawyer

"Stop remaking classic animated film in live action!"

You better buckle up because in various stages of development are...

Beauty and the Beast


Cruella (101 Dalmations starring Emma Stone)

Dumbo (Tim Burton)

Peter Pan

Tink/Tinkerbell (also Peter Pan with Reese Witherspoon attached)


The Sword in the Stone

Christopher Robin (Winnie the Pooh)

Night on Bald Mountain (Fantasia)

The Nutcracker and the Four Realms (possibly partially based on/inspired by the Fantasia segment)

The Little Mermaid

The Jungle Book 2

The Lion King (filmed back to back with JB2, also Jon Favreau)

Aladdin (Guy Ritchie attached to direct)

Genies (Aladdin prequel, may have evolved into the Aladdin remake)

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

Rose Red (also Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs)

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAJ

So lazy when will animated films be made into live action ones.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMARKGORDONUK

It reminds me of the joke Tina Fey made at the Golden Globes 'this is Hollywood, and when something kind of works we'll keep doing it until everybody hates it.'

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterchoog

Even if the endless parade of live-action remakes (no matter how finely made) seems a bit cynical, I'm optimistic about this one. Considering the paucity of Hollywood stars of Asian descent, a vehicle this high-profile could be an exciting launching pad for one or two careers.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAdrian S-G

McFarland, USA is actually about cross country, not baseball. I think Caro has shown interest and respect for different cultures throughout her career. I hope and think it will continue.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterCash

Loved Theron in North Country though,fully deserved Oscar nomination.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered Commentermarkgordon

She is an interesting choice. Of all the ones part of this lazy new trend of remaking the cartoons into live action this one gets me more excited than the rest because I feel it can actually be improved by having actors and real action going on.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterV.

McFarland, USA wasn't terrible. The best part of it was that Caro managed to make an uplifting sports drama without using a generic training montage.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJonn

If you make money for Disney they will give you more work, so that McFarlane USA gig was a smart move even if it seems out of the blue.

I'm excited by the prospect of a movie like this and I feel like Caro will push back against any dodgy castings they may try to force upon the project.

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Anything that chips away at the glass ceiling boxing in female directors is a great thing. #hollywoodsomale

February 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterSan FranCinema

I'd rather see her take on Mulan than whatever Zhan Yimou did with The Great Wall.

McFarland, USA is a very good sports movie. See it.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJija

The only asian actress considered for this is Emma Stone, of course.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterLuis

Tbh, I remember hearing about this live action remake before any of the others that have happened. And I've always been excited about this one because A) I love Mulan, and B) I think it has a lot of promise. I don't know. I shouldn't be so into the idea, but I am. I don't care about any of the other live action remakes, they're dumb, but this one... ever since I heard about it years ago, I wanted to see it.

February 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip H.

I love Caro so fairly happy about this. She will no doubt be respectful of the culture and she has a knack for pulling out great performances so could be a great opportunity for some asian actors to get a big hollywood role and excel in it!

February 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterBrooooke

Who are the other two female directors hired to helm $100+ million pictures? Kathryn Bigelow? Nancy Meyers?

February 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMareko

Glenn -- well put. And with things like Mulan, it would be silly for Disney not to cast unknown Chinese Americans or famous Chinese stars. As with so many properties (despite Hollywood's nervousness about going without A listers) the star IS the property itself. I've never understood why they spend the money on big stars (like only big actors for Batman) when that franchise sells itself.

February 17, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Mareko: Patty Jenkins (Wonder Woman), Ava DuVerney (A Wrinkle in Time), and the Wachowski Sisters (Jupiter Ascending) are the others, I believe. Unless there is another that I'm forgetting.

I'm actually excited by this MULAN because, unlike some of the others they have been turning into live action, the animated MULAN is not a particularly good movie and could certainly be improved. However, if they were to take POCAHONTAS, they'd have to significently rework it because it is so "problematic" to watch today.

February 17, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

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