During the 2023 ESSENCE Festival of Culture in New Orleans, Rosario Dawson, LaKeith Stanfield, Tiffany Haddish, and critically acclaimed filmmaker Justin Simien discussed why diversity in Hollywood matters to them.
On July 28, a remake of Disney’s 2003 movie The Haunted Mansion, which featured Eddie Murphy, is set to debut in movie theaters four months before the original’s 20th-anniversary. There was something very noticeable when the trailer for the remake was released on May 16 — the diversity of the cast. The modern concept features Jamie Lee Curtis as Madame Leota, Jared Leto as The Hat-Box Ghost, Chase Dillon, Danny DeVito, Hasan Minhaj, Winona Ryder, and other recognizable faces. The new storyline captures a mother (played by Dawson), who moves into a haunted mansion with her 9-year-old son only to find out it is inhabited by ghosts who refuse to depart. To help permanently remove the spirits, she hires a tour guide (Stanfield), psychic (Haddish), priest (Owen Wilson), and a historian (DeVito).
The spooky home the script is centered around is based in New Orleans, where the movie was filmed, and features aesthetics similar to a popular theme park ride that was designed by Walt Disney before he died in 1966 and opened in California in 1969, according to Entertainment Weekly.
“When we go into this mansion, I love the waltzers, I love that part of the ride. But listen… In New Orleans, we’d have waltzers, we would have second line people, we’d have all kind of dancers and dances happening here,” Simien told REVOLT. “This is the place where freaking jazz, gumbo and jambalaya, and étouffée come from. This has got to be filled with culture, and music, and people you normally don’t get to see [as] friends getting along in a movie. It served this story the best.”
After its introduction, the attraction became a fan-favorite, causing replicas of the ride — some with a twist — to be placed in other Disney parks worldwide. Being selected as the director to create a new adaption of the beloved supernatural comedy was a full-circle moment for Simien as a former Disneyland Park employee. When the 40-year-old talked with REVOLT about the importance of showcasing authentic New Orleans culture, that included diversity on set, and he made it clear his vision had no political agenda.
“For me, it’s [diversity] inseparable from my work. My first movie is called Dear White People — it’s like, I can’t shoot a movie about a house that was built in New Orleans and not showcase what people in New Orleans look like. It was not a political decision; it was not anything like that. This is accurate. This is what New Orleans is, and this culture and these people belong in this movie,” he explained.
Simien wasn’t the only champion for diversity and inclusion when crafting the film and cultivating his ideal frontrunners. The cast members of color revealed that what ultimately interested them in their roles, outside of the Houston native being the director, was seeing how multicultural it was.
“I mean, I feel like really early in my career, I’ve mostly been the only female on the set, let alone a woman of color. So, I think for me, just reading this script and then knowing who was a part of it was like a dream come true… dazzling,” Dawson shared.
She continued, “To see this script, and what was possible with it and knowing that Justin, particularly, was at the helm… This wasn’t just a casting choice; this was a vision in storytelling — there was going to be subtext, and there’s going to be nuances and things, especially content for young people that they don’t always get access to. Justin knows that I was constantly telling him, ‘I’m exploding inside right now watching him be, how the audience is introduced into this film.'”
Haddish expressed her sentiments regarding the much-needed support and representation of Black men and women, along with other minorities, not only in front of the cameras but behind the scenes as well. Being a part of the cast was a proud moment for Haddish, and she enjoyed her time on set thanks to the many faces of color she saw.
“For me, it’s very important,” the comedian said. “When I started getting No. 1 on the call sheet, I started making requests. You know how some people are like, ‘I just want blue M&Ms’? I’m just like, ‘I would like to see at least five to 10 Black crew members. I would like to identify with the crew please.’ I saw some of that in our movie, but I saw way more on the cast side, and the ghosts and all of that. It was so diverse, it’s delicious.”
The Girl’s Trip star, who went to a predominately white high school with a sprinkle of Black, Asian, and Hispanic folks, believes different cultures coming together is something that needs to be seen more, and she’s happy to be involved in moving the needle.
“I love working in an environment where it’s mixed. I went to a high school that was 3 percent Black, like 12 percent Hispanic, 5-15 percent Asian, and then the rest was white. Now, I wish it was a little equal on the numbers, but I had a blast and from that experience, I just want my whole life like that — very diverse. A nice mixed bag, that way you’ll have somebody keep you in check, but I need my people around for sure,” Haddish added.
In addition, Stanfield, who has always been an advocate for Black women, the Black experience and the culture, won’t take on a role without considering how a character will impact his community. His sentiments are simple — he wants to do work that inspires and enhances the perspective of not only Black people, but others who don’t understand the complexities of African Americans.
“I’m always looking to do stories to help represent us, our people, in a way that’s positive and gives us an opportunity to see the multitude of ways we show up in the world. So, I really love the idea that I was able to take the stage in a big Disney movie and the cast would be full of people who [are] like me, have the same color skin as me,” the 31-year-old disclosed. “It’s always something that’s important to me when I’m considering a role — how I’m going to be able to represent my people or help lend a hand to a larger representation that could be positive for us.”
The Get Out actor also shared a word for people who are scared that being inclusive will cast out certain races, which he said isn’t true and is a theory that needs to end because representation is necessary, positive, and helps the greater good of mankind.
“Diversity doesn’t equal an eraser. There are a lot of people that want to echo some sentiment that certain people are being caged out and erased, but that’s not the case. We got to saturate storytelling with different lenses from people with different backgrounds from all over the world. The world is huge, billions of people, so we’re opening up the doors to have those conversations. We don’t do it for diversity’s sake; we do it because we got something to say, and that means something’s at stake. That’s a rhyme,” he said with a smile on his face.
With all the passion and purpose behind the scenes and comradery on set, the cast is confident that fans of the Haunted Mansion legacy and viewers in general, especially kids, will enjoy watching the new narrative unfold. Furthermore, they’re happy to work with Disney, a company that gave them some of their best childhood memories and that is at the front of the line for inclusivity.
“This is showing you what you can get access to when you make Black stories universal, and you make other people relate to those stories as well in the way I’ve always had to and so many of us have had to over the years,” Dawson told REVOLT. “I think that this is hopefully going to continue to not just be a reflection of what Disney is up to now, but really provoke that in other companies, to recognize [it], because I think [the movie is] going to be huge. I think this is going to do really, really well, and it’s going to show them this doesn’t cost you anything… It just helps you excel and do well.”
“It’s going to be full of success,” Haddish chimed in.
Tickets are on sale now for Haunted Mansion. Check out the trailer for the movie below.
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