Since breaking out internationally with Whale Rider in 2002, New Zealand director Niki Caro has produced a steady stream of well-regarded dramas. She has directed three actresses to Oscar nominations: first, Whale Rider’s Keisha Castle-Hughes — at that time the youngest actress to be nominated for a supporting role — then Charlize Theron and Frances McDormand in 2005’s North Country. And now, as the director of the live-action remake of Disney’s 1998 animated musical Mulan, she will become the fourth woman to solo-direct a movie with a budget north of $100 million.
Speaking to TIME about her upcoming movie The Zookeeper’s Wife, which stars Jessica Chastain as real-life Polish hero Antonina Żabiński, who saved hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust, Caro took a moment to address her inclusion on a short list that includes Kathryn Bigelow (K-19: The Widowmaker), Patty Jenkins (this June’s Wonder Woman) and Ava DuVernay (next year’s A Wrinkle in Time, also from Disney).
When asked how it feels to join this group, Caro sighed. “That’s depressing, isn’t it? As a statistic, that’s really depressing.” But she acknowledged the studio responsible for tapping the latest names on the list. “Big ups to Disney for the fact that their last two movies are directed by women.” And she displayed no uncertainty about what she plans to do now that she’s one of them: “Me and Ava,” she promised, “we’ll just kick that door wide open so more can follow.”
Disney’s Mulan remake is just one of many beloved animated films the studio is revisiting, from last year’s The Jungle Book and the Beauty and the Beast remake in theaters now to Guy Ritchie’s forthcoming take on Aladdin and Tim Burton’s live-action Dumbo. Last fall, Disney put out a casting call for actors bilingual in English and Mandarin to star in Mulan, which is due November 2018. And while Beauty and the Beast retained the original movie’s songs, even adding a few, Caro recently confirmed to Moviefone that the remake, based on current plans, will not be a musical.
Caro, who will start work on Mulan after The Zookeeper’s Wife is released on March 31, may be a little biased after landing the gig, but she says she favors Mulan above the Belles and Ariels of Disney’s royal history. “Of all the princesses, she’s the most kick-ass. I love her the most,” she says. “I have daughters, so I’m down with all princesses, but I’m particularly down with Mulan.”
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