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‘Haunted Mansion’ director Justin Simien on the film’s “radical” feature

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Disney’s Haunted Mansion isn’t just a scary comedy based on a theme park ride, it’s also a radical portrayal of a Black man’s grief — that’s according to film director Justin Simien.

In the film, LaKeith Stanfield plays Travis, a character dealing with the loss of his wife, who bonds deeply with a child who lost his father. Stanfield is emotional, vulnerable — several times there are close-ups of his tear-stained face — something Simien tells ABC Audio is rarely seen on screen.

“It’s a Black man feeling his feelings. But it’s also a Black man extending a hand to a younger Black man and being a father figure … the character that Lakeith plays probably never had,” he explains. “And he is sort of … giving something that he so desperately is needing from the world. And I just feel like that was really radical.”

Simien identified deeply with Travis, noting, “I grew up without my father. He passed when I was very young and so I was and am Travis.”

Haunted Mansion opened last weekend to less than stellar box office numbers, but in the interview, done on the Friday of the film’s release, he told ABC Audio that he predicted the actors strike would affect the film’s bottom line because you didn’t see stars Jamie Lee CurtisRosario DawsonOwen Wilson and more on the morning shows and late-night talk shows during the week leading up to the film’s release.

“It deeply hurts the film to not have the actors there,” he explains. “But at the same time, I think that that’s important for studios to recognize what happens when you don’t have your actors out in front promoting movies.” 

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