After the surprise success of 2003’s indie hit Whale Rider — the heartwarming story of a plucky Maori girl’s rite of passage to tribal leadership — New Zealand filmmaker Niki Caro says she suddenly found herself the go-to director for every ”small-girl-and-large-mammal film” Hollywood had to offer. But she wasn’t interested in making, say, Hippo Rider, so when this provocative, hot-button drama inspired by a landmark 1984 sexual harassment case came her way, she jumped on it.
Charlize Theron stars as Josey Aimes, a struggling single mother who rouses her female co-workers to take a stand against unfair treatment and abuse at a mining company; Woody Harrelson plays the lawyer who takes on her class action suit. As an outsider filming in Minnesota, where the real-life case of Jenson v. Eveleth Mines took place, Caro faced skepticism from some locals who were not eager to reopen old wounds. ”They were anxious,” she says. ”It’s a part of their recent history they’re not proud of.” Still, though she comes from a country that’s ”pretty well run by women,” Caro had no interest in making a simple male-bashing polemic. ”The most important thing to me is that the audience not come away with an idea that men are evil and women are good,” she says, ”because I know that not to be the case.”