Nikola Jean "Niki" Caro MNZM is a New Zealand film director and screenwriter. Her 2002 film Whale Rider was critically praised and won a number of awards at international film festivals. She is the second female director hired by Disney to direct a film which is budgeted at over $100 million, when helming a live-action version of Disney's Mulan.
Caro's first feature film, Memory and Desire, was meant to be a showcase of New Zealand's culture and lifestyle (aligning with the start of the 100% Pure New Zealand tourism campaign by the New Zealand tourism section of the government), but it fell short; seeing disappointing results at the box office and mixed international reviews. This was especially true in Japan, where the film was deemed to have not captured the essence of Japanese culture, despite its attempts to evoke money and consult from possible Japanese investors. The film is meant to use landscapes to juxtapose the characters and their origins. The calm and relaxed outdoor setting of New Zealand is meant to oppose the hustle and bustle of the big, busy city of Tokyo. It was chosen for the New Zealand Prestigious Critics week in 1998. In 1999 the movie was voted best new film at the New Zealand Film Awards.
Caro went on to write and direct Whale Rider, which is about a Māori girl that has to stand up against the other men and her grandfather in the tribe to show she can be as much of a leader as the boys who were being trained to be leaders. Caro argues that Whale Rider is more about leadership than sexism because the Māori are also profoundly matriarchal. Caro says there is a Māori saying that "women lead from behind," even though in their culture, knowledge and lineage are passed down through the males and not the women. She directed thirteen-year-old Keisha Castle-Hughes to a performance nominated for an Oscar for Best Actress. The film had a budget of 2 million, which is considered small for a major film, but it was still considered to be a good interpretation of the indigenous story that it was trying to interpret and demonstrate. Whale Rider would also go on to become New Zealand's most financially successful film and either the film, or Caro herself, would win or be nominated for over 50 different awards by different, international film festivals.
With the success of Whale Rider under her belt, Caro was chosen to direct her first Hollywood film, North Country, starring Charlize Theron. It was later nominated for Best Actress for lead and supporting role at the Oscars, and also was nominated for a Golden Globe.
After doing North Country, Caro went back to New Zealand to write and direct the feature film The Vintner's Luck otherwise known as A Heavenly Vintage, which is about a peasant winemaker who sets out to make the perfect vintage wine. The film reunited her with her Whale Rider star Keisha Castle-Hughes.
In 2013, Caro planned to direct the film adaptation of The Zookeeper's Wife, based on Diane Ackerman's non-fiction book. It was released in 2017 and garnered a 61% critical consensus and 76% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
McFarland, USA starring Kevin Costner and directed by Caro. It was released in February 2015 and has an 80% critical consensus and an 88% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Caro will also be writing and directing the biographical film Callas, about the famous opera singer Maria Callas and her relationship with billionaire Aristotle Onassis.
In February 2017, it was announced Caro will direct Disney's live action remake of Mulan. She will be the second woman at the studio to direct a movie budgeted at over $100 million, after Ava DuVernay.
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