After Putting Disney on Blast, ‘Star Wars’ Creator Exits Upcoming Project

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Donald Glover as Lando

Credit: Lucasfilm

Justin Simien, the director of the upcoming summer blockbuster Haunted Mansion (2023), is getting candid about his thoughts on the Walt Disney Company, which recently came under fire due to its ever-controversial CEO Bob Iger. And now, after accusing Hollywood of “gaslighting” him and calling his experience promoting Haunted Mansion “unfortunate” in a tell-all interview, it looks like Simien is departing yet another project at one of Disney’s largest franchises: Star Wars.

Credit: D23

Related: Justin Simien Pushed for Historical Representation in ‘Haunted Mansion’

Disney’s newest Haunted Mansion reboot is set to arrive in theaters this week, but before it’s even had the chance to hit screens, the new movie has been surrounded by nonstop drama. For one, its recent red carpet premiere at Disneyland California Adventure looked a bit different, as the SAG-AFTRA strike prohibited its A-list cast, including Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, Jamie Lee Curtis, and LaKeith Stanfield, from attending the event, instead replacing celebs with popular Disney characters.

There’s also the matter of Disney boss Bob Iger’s recent comments on the historic SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, in which he slammed union members for being “unrealistic” with their demands. Meanwhile, the CEO brings in a roughly $27 million paycheck yearly, while his writers and actors make mere pennies in streaming residuals.

Picketers outside Disney Studios
Credit: USA Today

Related: ‘Haunted Mansion’ Director Pushes Back Against Bob Iger Strike Comments

And Walt Disney Studios isn’t the only studio in turmoil. It’s no secret that trouble is brewing behind the scenes at its subsidiary, Lucasfilm. Amid rumors of its controversial president, Katheleen Kennedy, being axed from the company, on top of crippling finances, the SAG-AFTRA and WGA strikes, and a string of poorly-rated film and TV ventures, Walt Disney Studios is going down hard, and it might just drag Star Wars with it.

Perhaps no one understands the severity of the situation better than Justin Simien, who’s hot off his first collaboration with the House of Mouse. But Haunted Mansion was only the beginning of the filmmaker’s run at Disney, as Simien had been tapped to write a Lando Calrissian limited series for Star Wars in December 2020. The project has been a long time coming ever since Donald Glover stepped into the iconic role for 2018’s Solo: A Star Wars Story, but has remained in development limbo at Disney+ ever since.

Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian
Credit: Lucasfilm

However, Simien’s recent comments, in addition to a shocking new report, suggest that the Haunted Mansion director has had it with Disney and is setting his sights on different projects moving forward.

Speaking with The Hollywood Reporter about Haunted Mansion, the strikes, and making his Disney debut during a fraught time in Hollywood, Simien got real about those controversial Bob Iger remarks while also teasing what his future with Disney might look like down the line.

Lindsay Lamb as The Bride in Disney's HAUNTED MANSION
Credit: Disney

The director began by describing his Haunted Mansion red carpet experience “Bittersweet,” which he was able to attend in accordance with SAG-AFTRA guidelines as a director—though he was forced to walk it without his starry cast by his side. While admitting that he was “glad” the movie screened, he explained that “with the strike and the Bob Iger comments, I feel like I crash-landed into it.”

When asked about Iger specifically, Simien called the CEO’s statement “really unfortunate,” adding that struggling writers, actors, and other artists are “in a constant state of trauma.” Interestingly enough, Simien also revealed that he’s never actually met Bob Iger face-to-face:

Really unfortunate. I’ve never met him. I have this fantasy that we’ll sit down and have a very civil conversation about how what he said went over in the artist community. I just keep going back to the irony. It’s a company built around a talking mouse. Unrealistic is kind of y’all’s thing. It just sucks that his words don’t align with the reality that we’ve all faced. It’s a terrible feeling to try to make art to give people a sense of escapism when you are in a constant state of trauma. We need to pay our bills and not feel as if we’re in constant economic strife. What’s so unrealistic is that a system built like that can just keep going and going and going and not exhaust itself. We’re exhausted.

Bob Iger in front of the Disney logo
Credit: Disney

As for his debut into the galaxy far, far away, things were still looking hopeful when Simien said that he still thought we was attached to the Lando miniseries, though he admitted he “[didn’t] really know.” He also opened up about the possible reasons why the project has been shelved for so long, which forced him to wonder if Lucasfilm thought he was “too Black” or “too queer” to spearhead the show:

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.

Donald glover as Lando Calrissian in a room surrounded by computers
Credit: Lucasfilm

Mere hours after this interview with The Hollywood Reporter, however, a contrasting report (via Variety) confirmed that Simien had indeed stepped away from the Disney+ Lando series, reportedly handing over writing duties to Lando Calrissian actor Donald Glover and his brother, Stephen Glover.

While Simien has yet to comment on this shocking new development, it certainly lines up with his apparent frustrations with Disney in his piece for The Hollywood Reporter. With so much drama behind the scenes at Lucasfilm and its parent company, on top of what very well might be his mistreatment by higher-ups at both companies, it’s no wonder that the filmmaker would want out.

Characters look up in 'Haunted Mansion' (2023)
Credit: Disney

It is disheartening to hear that Simien might have felt forced out of pursuing Lando, with the writer-director stating that he “poured [his] heart and spent a lot of time working with them to put together a really great show.” Maybe Simien will still be involved in the Star Wars spinoff in some capacity, signing on as a writer rather than showrunner.

Lucasfilm has a long track record of abandoning projects, underpaying their employees, and not exactly hiring diverse staff. But with Lando being such a highly-anticipated spinoff series and Simien being the creative force behind hits like Dear White People (2014) and Bad Hair (2020), there was hope that his collaboration with Star Wars would result in a compelling addition to the sci-fi universe.

Haunted Mansion
Credit: Disney

Sadly, it seems like things were just too good to be true. But with Donald Glover, an esteemed writer in his own right, and his brother in the driver’s seat, there’s hope for Lando yet—as long as Star Wars doesn’t put it on the back burner yet again in favor of other buzzy projects. The whole Lando ordeal continues to be extremely confusing, with there being an apparent back-and-forth between prospective showrunners and Lucasfilm execs for years now.

As for the Haunted Mansion director, his Disney debut is faring generally well with critics and early viewers, though it’s got a long way to go at the box office before it’s deemed a “hit.” Only time will tell what his real reasons for supposedly departing Lando were and if he really does have “beef” with the House of Mouse. But in the words of Simien himself, for now, “We’ll find a different way to do our art.”

What do you think of Justin Simien leaving the Disney+ Lando miniseries? Let us know in the comments below.

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