‘Haunted Mansion’ Director Admits He Would Not Have Done Film Without a Black Leading Man

Haunted Mansion Black leading man
Credit: Disney

After months of waiting and being treated to exciting previews, Disney’s newest live-action movie, Haunted Mansion, has finally hit theaters. While it is struggling to find its stride against hit movies Barbie and Oppenheimer, fans are loving being taken on a journey through one of Disney’s most popular theme park attractions. Haunted Mansion has been in the works since 2010 and has gone through several writers and directors, but Disney finally settled on Dear White People director Justin Simien.

Haunted Mansion Poster

Credit: Disney

Simien has been hard at work promoting the film, telling fans to head to theaters despite the WGA and SAG strikes. Simien has said that people seeing the movie will help those who put so much work into making it happen. Haunted Mansion stars had been promoting the film until July 14, when the Screen Actors Guild officially went on strike. Since then, the actors have not been able to promote the movie. The Haunted Mansion premiere was Hollywood’s first big film premiere to happen without any of the film’s actors.

Justin Simien Haunted Mansion lando

Credit: Disney

Haunted Mansion takes place in New Orleans, Louisiana, and stars Rosario Dawson as Gabbie, Owen Wilson as Father Kent, Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, Danny DeVito as Bruce, Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota, and LaKeith Stanfield Ben Matthias. In a recent interview, Simien revealed that having a black leading man was vital to him agreeing to make the movie. In fact, he told Disney that he would not direct Haunted Mansion without a black leading man.

In an interview with TheWrap, Simien explained his decision:

“My sense of Blackness is really rooted in Louisiana,” Simien told TheWrap. “That’s where my mom’s family is from. And I just felt like the version of New Orleans that I know and that I grew up with is beautiful and it’s Black. There’s something political and radical about realizing it properly in a movie like this that actually complements the ride and complements what the ride is trying to say thematically.”

Simien said that all things considered, having a Black leading man for his movie was a nonnegotiable. “I said there has to be a Black person, because this movie is set in New Orleans and New Orleans is an 85% Black town,” he explained. “I’m not telling a New Orleans story without a Black leader, I’m just not going to do it.”

LaKeith Stanfield Haunted Mansion

Credit: Disney

Simien decided on LaKeith Stanfield and told the talented actor that he wanted audiences to see a different side of him. Stanfield’s character, Ben Matthias, is a paranormal investigator who doesn’t like people. He is also still trying to process his own deep grief. Simien said that he told Stanfield he was going to make people care about a character who maybe wasn’t all that likable.

Simien has been a huge Disney fan for most of his life, even working as a Disney Parks Cast Member years ago. He compared Stanfield’s role to that of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. He wanted Stanfield to “surprise some people who maybe don’t know that side of you.”

Haunted Mansion is currently in theaters nationwide.

About Krysten Swensen

A born and bred New England girl living the Disney life in Southern California. I love to read, to watch The Golden Girls, and love everything to do with Disney and Universal. I also love to share daily doses of Disney on my Disney Instagram @BrazzleDazzleDisney!

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