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Nikola Jean "Niki" Caro MNZM (born 1967) 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.[1] She was hired to direct the 2020 live-action version of Disney's Mulan, making her the second female director hired by Disney to direct a film budgeted at over $100 million.[2]

Niki Caro

Nikola Jean Caro

1967 (age 51–52)
Wellington, New Zealand
Alma materUniversity of Auckland
Swinburne University of Technology
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter
Years active1984–present
Notable work
Whale Rider
The Zookeeper's Wife
Spouse(s)Andrew Lister


Early lifeEdit

Caro was born in Wellington, New Zealand. She attended Kadimah College, Auckland, then Diocesan School for Girls, where she received an alumni award.[3] Caro graduated with a BFA from the Elam School of Fine Arts at the University of Auckland in 1988 and received a Postgraduate Diploma in Film from the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.[4][5]


Early careerEdit

Caro first found interest in working with metal sculptures, but later changed in it to film. Caro was self-taught in film through only reading narrative film books. She started out with writing and once she was done writing a script, her mother typed it up for her at work.[6]

Caro's first experience in directing was when she was hired to create commercials for different companies such as the New Zealand Land Transport Safety Authority, Nike and Tower Insurance.[5]

Her first experience with a professional production company was when she wrote and directed for the television series, Another Country. She did not have any experience in directing, but it felt it was instinctual once she started working with the actors.[6]

Memory and DesireEdit

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.[7] 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.[8] 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 works twofold because the contrast also works for the comparison of the "civilized" parts of New Zealand against the wild outdoors, showing off the two different sections of the country in an effort to advertise to multiple groups of people considering visiting the country. The tourism board looked to use landscapes as the most enticing factor in a tourist's eyes, along with people, adventure and culture.[9] The film shows evidence of this by implying that Keiji and Sayo are unable to consummate their marriage anywhere but in the outdoors due to Keiji being unable to achieve an erection in an urban setting, emphasizing the "natural" state of humanism of being connected to the surrounding landscapes.[8] Along the couple's trip they encounter different New Zealand tourist hotspots such as; the Museum of Technology and Rotorua's spa pools on the West Coast Beach. It is also in contrast of the bland hotel rooms that the couple stay in; as if to say that the only time they are truly free is when they are outside in nature, specifically New Zealand's nature.[8]

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.

Whale RiderEdit

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.[10] 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,[7] 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.[5]

Subsequent projectsEdit

With the success of Whale Rider under her belt, Caro was chosen to direct her first Hollywood film, North Country (2005), 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.[11]

After doing North Country, Caro went back to New Zealand to write and direct the feature film The Vintner's Luck (2009) otherwise known as A Heavenly Vintage, which is about a peasant winemaker who sets out to make the perfect vintage wine.[12] 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.[13] It was released in 2017 and garnered a 61% critical consensus and 76% audience score on Rotten Tomatoes.[14]

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.[15]

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.[16]

On CannesEdit

Caro found the Cannes Film Festival to be different from what she thought. She thought she would be mingling with other filmmakers and discussing other films, but the festival is only a market and is very cut-throat. Caro states she is still terrified of the Cannes Film Festival.[17]

Personal lifeEdit

Caro is married to architect Andrew Lister, and they have two daughters, Tui and Pearl.[18] Their first daughter was born shortly after the success of Whale Rider. Because Caro was pregnant, she was unable to attend any of the premieres for the film. Caro said she was sad, but at the same time thought it may not be such a bad thing because success in America is so radical.[19]


Year Title Credits Notes IMDB
2020 Mulan Director Remake of the 1998 animated film which in turn was based on the Chinese legend
2017 Anne Director TV series - Two Hour Premiere
2017 The Zookeeper's Wife Director Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Diane Ackerman
2015 McFarland, USA Director
2009 The Vintner's Luck Director, writer, producer Based on the novel by Elizabeth Knox [1][20]
2005 North Country Director Inspired by a book by Clara Bingham and Laura Leedy Gansler [2]
2002 Whale Rider Director, writer Based on the novel by Witi Ihimaera [3][21]
2001–2003 Mercy Peak Director Television Series in New Zealand [4][22]
2001–2002 Being Eve Writer Television Series in New Zealand [5][23]
1999 Jackson's Wharf Director, writer, storyliner Television Series in New Zealand [6][24]
1998 Memory and Desire Director, writer Based on a short story by Peter Wells[25] [7][26]
1996 Footage Director Television Documentary [27]
1995 Plain Tastes Director, writer Television Drama [28]
1994 Old Bastards Director, writer Experimental Short Film [29]
1994 Sure to Rise Director, writer Short [8][30]
1992 The Minute Production manager Short [31]
1992 The Summer the Queen Came Director, writer Television - under series "Another Country" [32]
1990 Bad Note for a Heart Director Music Video [33]

Awards and recognitionEdit

  • Caro was appointed a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to the film industry in the 2004 New Year Honours.[34]
  • Caro was one of the honorees for Ms. Magazine's 10 women of the year in 2003[35]
  • Whale Rider received Best Feature Film for British Academy Children's Awards
  • Caro's short film Memory and Desire was nominated for Best Film and Best Screenplay Adaptation at the Nokia New Zealand Film Awards,1999.
  • Her film, Memory and Desire won a Special Jury Prize at the New Zealand Film and Television Awards[5]
  • The television series Jackson's Wharf received the Best Drama Script award for at the TV Guide Television Awards, 1999.
  • Caro's short film Memory and Desire was selected for Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival, 1998
  • Caro's television documentary Footage was selected for the Venice Film Festival, 1996
  • Caro's short for Sure to Rise was nominated for the Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival, 1994
  • Caro was nominated for Best Director and Best Writer at the NZ Film and Television Awards (1994) for The Summer the Queen Came
  • Won Best Video at NZ Music Awards (1990) for Bad Note for a Heart

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Stacie Stukin (December 2003). "Niki Caro". Women of the Year 2003. Ms. Magazine. Retrieved 31 July 2007.
  2. ^ "Mulan: Niki Caro to direct Disney's live action remake". BBC NEWS. 16 February 2017. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  3. ^ S. "Niki Caro". Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  4. ^ "Alumni - Niki Caro". University of Auckland. Retrieved 7 January 2009.
  5. ^ a b c d "Niki Caro". 25 February 2016. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  6. ^ a b . NZonscreen Retrieved 5 May 2012. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ a b Garcia, Maria (June 2003). "Whale Rider". Film Journal International. 106 (6): 43.
  8. ^ a b c Leotta, Alfio (October 2012). "Quarterly Review of Film and Video: "100% Pure New Zealand"". Scholars Portal Journals (5 ed.). 29: 440–449.
  9. ^ Morgan, N.J.; et al. (2003). "Destination Branding and the Role of the Stakeholders: The Case of New Zealand". Journal of Vacation Marketing. 9 (3): 285.
  10. ^ "women 2003". Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  11. ^ "imdb North County=". Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  12. ^ "Vintners Luck=". Retrieved 7 May 2012.
  13. ^ Kit, Borys (30 April 2013). "Jessica Chastain Attached to Star in 'The Zookeeper's Wife' (Exclusive)". The Hollywood Reporter.
  14. ^ The Zookeeper's Wife, retrieved 18 October 2018
  15. ^ Horst, Carole (19 May 2014). "Niki Caro Set to Direct Maria Callas Biopic". Variety. Retrieved 25 February 2016.
  16. ^ Sun, Rebecca. "Disney's Live-Action 'Mulan' Finds Director (Exclusive)". Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 15 February 2017.
  17. ^ "Niki Caro". Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  18. ^ "Nikki Caro". Archived from the original on 8 December 2015. Retrieved 1 December 2015.
  19. ^ "Niki Caro". 4. screentalk. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  20. ^ . nzonscreen Retrieved 6 May 2012. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  21. ^ "whale rider". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  22. ^ "Mercy Peak". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  23. ^ "Being Eve". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  24. ^ "Jackson's Wharf". nzonscreen. Retrieved 5 May 2012.
  25. ^ Memory & Desire - 1997
  26. ^ "Memory and Desire". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  27. ^ "Footage". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  28. ^ "Plain Tastes". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  29. ^ "Old Bastards". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  30. ^ "Sure to Rise". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  31. ^ "The Minute". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  32. ^ "The Summer the Queen Came". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  33. ^ "Bad Note for a Heart". nzonscreen. Retrieved 6 May 2012.
  34. ^ New Year Honours List 2004. Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Retrieved 7 July 2013.
  35. ^ "News Fronts". JSTOR 25649015.

External linksEdit