The director of North Country talks about sexual harassment.
Slate: In the DVD commentary for Whale Rider, you said that Maori women "lead from behind." Would you say the same for New Zealander women?
Caro: It's not at all the same for New Zealander women. We lead from in front!
Slate: Is "leading from behind" really a position of strength? I mean, looking at what happened in North Country, it seems impossible for a woman like Josey Aimes to have gotten anywhere by "leading from behind."
Caro: It can be a position of strength. The Maori culture is highly specific and stems from 2,000 years of tribal behavior, so I don't think you can make a comparison at all. Those women have it tough, but they're tough themselves.
Slate: You've referred to a "colonial mentality" in New Zealand in which talent fights for recognition amid fierce competition. How have you experienced this in your own career?
Caro: I've experienced this. But it's not any different for women. It's difficult for any creative person in New Zealand. The New Zealand culture and nature is such that we find it very difficult to celebrate creative achievement. In order to get New Zealanders' respect you have to dominate the world like Peter Jackson has done. He is absolutely revered.
Slate: Is that something you would like to achieve?
Caro: It's not a goal that I set up for myself.
Slate: Have you had a mentor?
Caro: I never had a mentor. God, it would have been nice, but I just didn't. I look up to Jane Campion. And my most favorite director Lynne Ramsay [Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar].
Slate: Recently in the New York Times, the critic Caryn James included North Country in what she called "a genre of timid films with portentous-sounding themes, works that offer prepackaged schoolroom lessons or canned debates." She wrote, "It seems to be a film with a cause [because] it refights a battle that took place long ago." How would you respond to this?
Pamela Paul is a contributor to Time and the author of Pornified: How Pornography is Transforming Our Lives, Our Relationships and Our Families and The Starter Marriage and the Future of Matrimony.
Photograph of Niki Caro by Sara Jaye/Getty Images.