Picture a job that requires long hours, dangerous physical tasks, a high risk of injury, and enduring discrimination and a lack of opportunity.
These are the challenges faced by black stuntwomen.
In a 2016 survey, 18 out of 43 stuntwomen said they’d experienced sexual harassment in the workplace, and 26 out of the 43 said they knew colleagues who’d experienced this. However, for black stuntwomen, it’s more than sexual harassment they have to be concerned about–it’s a lack of job opportunities. Methods like wigging, where stuntmen wear wigs to play actresses, and paint downs, (also known as blackface) where they paint their skin a darker color to match the actress they’re doubling, prevents women from performing these stunts, according to April Wright, director of the documentary, Stuntwoman: The Untold Hollywood Story, based on Molly Gregory’s book.
It’s a rule in the Screen Actors Guide–American Federation of Television and Radio Artists’ (SAG-AFTRA) Stunt Safety Digest that stunt coordinators must hire stunt doubles close to the actor’s gender and race, yet a lack of diversity isn’t uncommon. For example, stuntwoman Deven McNair, who has more than 70 stunt credits, recently filed a sex-discrimination charge against a Hollywood production company and SAG-AFTRA, according to Deadline.
Work for stuntwomen is a simple equation: The more women in action roles means more stuntwomen. In that area, there has been a little progress recently. In the first quarter of 2018, four action-packed movies are being released with black actresses as their leads: Proud Mary and Acrimony, both starring Taraji P. Henson, Black Panther, which stars several black women, and Breaking In, starring Gabrielle Union.
To find out what it’s really like, we spoke to Keisha Tucker, Crystal Michelle, Alyma Dorsey, Carrie Bernans, Cheryl Lewis, and Jadie David, six stuntwomen who’ve kicked, punched, and trained their way into becoming the best and baddest stuntwomen, doubling for many A-list actresses. Here, they recount the lessons they learned, the importance of mentorship, and how those hard-learned lessons apply to black women everywhere.
BY Paulana Lamonier