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Justin Simien On Directing 'Haunted Mansion,' Intentionally Showcasing The Black Father Figure

Haunted Mansion

There is another Haunted Mansion coming out. But Eddie Murphy won’t be fighting ghosts like he was in 2003.

This time, the upcoming film stars LaKeith Stanfield as the lead with an ensemble cast including Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Rosario Dawson, Dan Levy, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jared Leto. Haunted Mansion is based on the Disney World ride and follows a mother and son moving into a mansion only to find that it is haunted, and eventually combatting spirits thanks to hiring a former paranormal investigator turned tour guide.

The Justin Simien-directed film is entertaining and has enough jump scares for kids while still being comical enough for adults. We recently interviewed Simien, a Houston native who went to Chapman University, who breaks down his thought process when it came to the film.

The Dear White People creator said the most challenging part of the movie was the scale of it.

“I think for me it was like the scale of it. And I don’t mean that in terms of the actual work you put into it or the size of the movie, but … it was the longest shoot I’ve ever done,” Simien said. “It was the longest editing process I’ve ever been in. We started talking about this movie in 2021. It was really supposed to come out the top of the year. They started to get kind of excited about it, so they moved it towards the summer.”

Justin Simien
Justin Simien - Photo Credit:

Simien, though, admitted the movie was a journey to get to the big screen. During the process, Simien worked with a script that highlighted love and grief, which was perfect for Simien because he himself lost several close people in his life, including his father at an early age.

And to him, having a Black man as a hero in a tentpole kind of film was a radical idea, so to put the character in the best position possible to ensure the film can develop into its best version, Simien said that he needed to have the film in one of the Blackest cities in America. Enter New Orleans and all of its perfect Black, sexy settings and vibes.

Still, the movie came down to one thing.

“…The whole thing hinges on his (actor LaKeith as Ben Matthias) ability to feel difficult feelings -- like that’s new,” Simien said. “…And then he goes on to be sort of a father to a young Black kid. I’m like, ‘That’s radical, and no one’s going to expect. Everyone’s going to come for the chills and thrills, and we got to give them that. But if I can also do this other thing that I don’t really see any other movies doing at this scale, and do right by New Orleans, like I feel like as an artist I’ve done something, you know, a little subversive and a little important. I kind of snuck some things through and so for me, that was definitely the appeal.”

What was also appealing was the real sense of family and the adversities that everyday families face. Simien, 40, who went to Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, was trained at a young age to develop authenticity that develops into movie entertainment. So, he said, it was key for him to develop a creative space for actors and actresses such as LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito and Jamie Lee Curtis to organically evolve a true sense of familyhood.

And the movie turned out exceptional because of the brilliance of Simien.

“…All of that, to me, I think gives the sense that it’s real, you know. It’s crazy the journey we take you on … but it needed those ... real human kind of moments, so that was definitely an important thing for me for sure,” Simien said.

The Haunted Mansion hits the big screen today!

Check out the full interview below.


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