Disney's live-action 'Mulan' hires female director, Niki Caro, in still-rare move

Niki Caro becomes one of the few women to be brought on to helm a movie budgeted at more than $100 million. Caro has previously directed 'Whale Rider' and the upcoming film 'The Zookeeper's Wife.'

The animated version of 'Mulan' was released in 1998.

A female director, Niki Caro, has been brought on to direct the upcoming live-action adaptation of Disney’s “Mulan," noteworthy because Hollywood is an industry in which women are still often underrepresented. 

Ms. Caro has also directed such films as “Whale Rider” and the upcoming “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which will be released in March. 

Ava DuVernay became the first African-American woman to direct a live-action movie that is budgeted at more than $100 million when she took on the job of directing the upcoming movie “A Wrinkle in Time” (also from Disney). The only other two women to direct a film with that big of a budget are Kathryn Bigelow, who directed the 2002 movie “K-19: The Widowmaker,” and Patty Jenkins, who has helmed the upcoming film “Wonder Woman,” which will be released this June. 

The TV industry has done better than film on the issue of gender and race diversity, but also lags. 

In September 2016, the Directors Guild of America published a report that included the statistic that white men directed more than two-thirds of all TV installments that were created in the 2015-2016 network TV season (while the study used the network TV calendar model, the study included cable companies like FX and streaming services like Netflix).

White female directors increased 1 percentage point and directed 14 percent of the TV episodes studied, while female directors of color directed 3 percent of them, the same as last year. (Male directors of color helmed 16 percent of the episodes, which was up 1 point from last year.)

The upcoming “Mulan” live-action adaptation that will be directed by Caro could also be inclusive in another way, as it was previously reported that Disney is looking for a Chinese actress to portray the title character.

Yet Caro is the exception to the rule. According to Variety, women made up just 7 percent of the directors who worked on the 250 highest-grossing films of 2016. That's down two percentage points from the year before. 

The lack of female directors being brought on for movies and TV projects is such that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has been interviewing more than 100 female directors since October 2015 as part of an investigation into discriminatory hiring practices by the industry.

At the end of last month, however, Deadline reported that some female directors are concerned over the effect of recent changes at the EEOC, including President Trump’s selection of Victoria Lipnic as acting chair of the EEOC. 

“We’re all talking about it,” director Rachel Feldman, who was interviewed by the EEOC, told Deadline. “We’re all very concerned that Trump’s new picks are going to keep the EEOC from getting behind women directors and recognizing that the pattern of gender discrimination in Hollywood warrants governmental legal action.”

But others say that there might be political reasons for a Trump administration to pressure Hollywood on this issue. Director Maria Giese told Deadline than EEOC charges might not only improve Trump’s image with women, but also would allow him to stick it to Hollywood, where he has few friends.

“It could advantage Trump to blast a spotlight on liberal, Democratic Hollywood hypocrisy in keeping women shut out of the directing profession,” said Giese, who first took the issue to the EEOC in 2013 and then pushed the ACLU to join the battle. “He might like to see the feds go after the studios and networks to shame the industry that stands as the worst violator of Title VII in the United States. Also, supporting the investigation could help Trump improve his dismal reputation among women."

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