Black, Gay ‘Haunted Mansion’ Director Attacks Disney, Exits Gig

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Justin Simien broke out in a big way with his 2014 indie hit “Dear White People.” The racially-conscious satire earned him a spot at the Hollywood table, and he leveraged its fame for both a TV version of the film as well as the horror comedy “Bad Hair.”

Simien’s success caught the ear of the Mouse House, and that’s where things get … interesting.

Disney announced in 2020 Simien would take the creative lead on a “Lando” TV series for Disney+. Donald Glover, who played Lando Calrissian in the disappointing 2018 film “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” would portray the iconic character once more.

And then, nothing. No news on the show, whether it’s been delayed, canceled or something in between.

Now, Simien is the director of “Haunted Mansion,” Disney’s second attempt to bring its theme park attraction to the big screen. The first film, starring Eddie Murphy, proved a modest success in 2003.

Disney is taking a second swing at the property, powered by a great cast including Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, LaKeith Stanfield and Danny DeVito. You’d think Simien might be pleased to land such a major gig and fear saying anything that might upset the powerful Disney suits, especially with “Lando” in limbo.

And you’d be wrong.

Simien lashed out at his bosses in a wide-ranging interview with The Hollywood Reporter. The interviewer asked Simien about “Lando.” He said he had no new information on the series other than his colleagues loved the material he wrote for the upcoming show.

The director of Disney’s “Haunted Mansion” is not pleased with Disney and he’s letting everyone know about it. (Photo by Michael Tran / AFP) (Photo by MICHAEL TRAN/AFP via Getty Images).

Progress happens in fits and starts in Hollywood. That doesn’t make it any less frustrating for the talent involved.

Now, with Simien talking to the press regarding his “Haunted Mansion” gig, the “Lando” topic is coming up anew.

Here’s what Simien said about the uncertainty tied to the series.

I am attached, I think, but I don’t really know. (Laughs.) The last thing I was told was that they loved it but needed to put a pin in it until they could figure out everybody’s availability. I haven’t investigated further, but I’m not an idiot. I’m not alone in that experience. But I can’t help but wonder, “Am I too Black? Am I too queer? And people just don’t want to say that?” Because it seems like I develop things with these companies and they just never happen for reasons unknown.

Justin Simien

“Star Wars” titles are notorious for experiencing delays and shutdowns, as are many Hollywood projects. Yet Simien publicly suggested Disney suits, the same ones that hired him in the first place for both “Lando” and a major motion picture, suddenly are holding his race and sexuality against him.

It’s a serious charge, and Simien doesn’t share any proof to back it up beyond a hunch.

Later in the same day, The Hollywood Reporter broke the news that Simien had exited the “Lando” project and it will move forward with Donald and Stephen Glover writing the series. The Glover brothers are black, for what it’s worth.

Director Justin Simien Is Not Pleased

The report’s timing couldn’t be more curious.

Now, it’s unclear when the initial Simien interview was conducted or if Disney brass got their hands on it. Talent often spends the weeks prior to a film’s release date chatting with various print and online journalists. 

Could Team Disney have read that Simien interview and fired the director at hyperspace speed? Unlikely. Big decisions like this rarely happen so swiftly, although skins can be paper thin in La La Land.

It still won’t be forgotten how Disney benched Simien for two-plus years, giving him little information about the project. More importantly, anyone hiring Simien in the future will know the director may throw them under the bus if plans don’t proceed precisely on schedule.

Written by Christian Toto

Christian Toto is an award-winning film critic, journalist and founder of, the Right Take on Entertainment. He’s the author of “Virtue Bombs: How Hollywood Got Woke and Lost Its Soul” and a lifelong Yankees fan. Toto lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, two sons and too many chickens.

Follow Christian on Twitter at

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