Disney Seemingly Punishes ‘Haunted Mansion’ Director After “Nightmare” Production

in Disney, Star Wars

Justin Simien

Credit: Disney

No one wants to get on Disney’s bad side—especially a director fresh off their first feature collaboration with the House of Mouse. But it seems like the man behind the studio’s latest summer blockbuster might’ve already been blacklisted from the company amid reports that he’s been axed from a high-profile Star Wars spinoff series.

Credit: D23

Related: ‘Haunted Mansion’ Slammed, Disney Faces Yet Another Flop

Haunted Mansion (2023) is the latest addition to Disney’s slate of live-action reboots, following the unfortunate trend of big-budget remakes that fail to make much of a splash at the box office. Although there have been some rare winners, 2023 has proved to be a tumultuous year for the company so far, with Marvel’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania (2023) being met with lackluster reviews and Rob Marshall’s The Little Mermaid (2023) failing to strike much of a chord with audiences.

Unlike the 2003 Eddie Murphy-led cult classic of the same name, 2023’s Haunted Mansion tells a much different story while still pulling inspiration from the beloved Disney Parks ride it’s based on. Directed by Dear White People showrunner Justin Simien, the all-star cast includes LaKeith Stanfield, Owen Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, Danny DeVito, and even Oscar-winner Jamie Lee Curtis.

Characters climb the stairs in a poster for Disney's upcoming 'Haunted Mansion' (2023)
Credit: Disney

Related: Op-Ed: ‘Haunted Mansion’ Will Be Disney’s ‘Super Mario Bros.’

Currently, it looks like Haunted Mansion‘s box office is getting spooked by the affectionally-dubbed “Barbenheimer” double feature, with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie (2023) and Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer (2023) both currently in theaters. While the perfectly pink Mattel flick is on track to break the one billion dollar mark, Simien’s Haunted Mansion isn’t faring so well, tapering off at the weekend box office.

Although it’s earned generally positive reviews from critics, Haunted Mansion seems to be kneeling at the feet of more buzz-worthy summer blockbusters, with many agreeing that it couldn’t have been released at a worse time. But even though the film might not’ve been the box office darling Disney wanted it to be, the studio is already searching for people to blame, and it looks like they might’ve just found their victim.

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

It looks like Disney is officially pinning Haunted Mansion‘s poor performance on Justin Simien after the company reportedly axed him from Lucasfilm’s Lando miniseries, with Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018) actor Donald Glover set to reprise his role as the titular fan-favorite con artist, Lando Calrissian. According to a report from Above the Line, which made headlines last week, Glover will also be taking up showrunner duties alongside his brother and longtime Atlanta collaborator Stephan Glover.

Simien took to social media shortly after the news went viral, claiming that this was the first he’d heard of his apparent replacement for the Lando series after Lucasfilm announced him as showrunner during Disney Investor Day 2020. While he was understandably disappointed, Simien wished the Glover siblings the best, expressing his support for the project. 

Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian
Credit: Lucasfilm

But the behind-the-scenes drama reportedly started months ago, according to a source close to the Haunted Mansion production, with Simien having been cut from Lando as early as summer 2022 before the current WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. And while he didn’t share specific reasons why he was removed from the upcoming Star Wars spinoff, he did offer some interesting insights into the director’s troubled past with Disney.

On the latest episode of The Hot Mic podcast, entertainment industry insider Jeff Sneider described Haunted Mansion as being a “tough production,” explaining that the third act required intensive reshoots. He added that Simien, who has a background in more grounded TV dramas, wasn’t well-versed in CGI, which caused the writer-director to be stuck in post-production for “awhile.”

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

Lucasfilm, who wanted to get Lando up and running, supposedly didn’t want to wait for Simien to finish working on Haunted Mansion, but according to Sneider, Simien still “left on his own accord,” choosing to prioritize his Disney horror flick. In his words, going back to Glover was more of a last resort on Lucasfilm’s end, though he admitted that there’s also the possibility Glover only would’ve signed onto Lando if he could write it with his brother.

However, this remains pure speculation, and Simien’s social media remarks about being replaced for Lando seem to imply that Disney instead kicked out the director for one reason or another. Sneider’s report also seems to contradict an interview Simien did with The Hollywood Reporter just last week, in which he claimed he was still attached to the Star Wars project.

Donald Glover as Lando
Credit: Lucasfilm

If this seems fishy, it’s because it is. While it seems unlikely that Disney would blacklist Simien from their ranks just because of a rocky production and an underwhelming box office performance, maybe Haunted Mansion being a “flop” truly was enough of a reason for the studio not to want him at Lucasfilm. Or perhaps, given his lack of experience with CGI and effects, they just assumed Simien wouldn’t be a good fit for Star Wars, which, while slightly cruel, does make sense considering the technology that goes into Disney+’s sci-fi shows. Simien also spoke out against CEO Bob Iger recently following his controversial remarks about protesters, which might not’ve put him in the company’s good graces, as well.

Until we get more clarity on why Simien did or didn’t depart Lando on his own accord, more speculation will continue ti make the rounds online. It’ll be interesting to see if Simien himself addresses his abrupt departure from Lando after Haunted Mansion completes its theatrical run, but with the ongoing WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes forcing writers to put their pens down, its also unlikely the Glover brothers will make serious progress on the spinoff series anytime soon.

What do you think of Haunted Mansion reportedly being a “tough” production? Is it fair for Lucasfilm to remove Justin Simien from the Lando miniseries? Let us know in the comments below.

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