The practice is called wigging: stuntmen don wigs and women’s clothing to resemble female actors while filming risky action scenes.
Camera angles, special effects and editing preserve the illusion that it is a pulchritudinous star leaping off a building or driving through a window rather than a man in drag.
Audiences may not know or care but stuntwomen do because it means less work for them.
One is now mounting what is believed to be the first legal challenge to wigging. Deven MacNair, a Los Angeles-based stunt performer, is planning to sue a production company and Hollywood’s acting union over a male colleague performing a stunt in drag instead of giving the job to a stuntwoman.
“The practice is so common,” she told the Guardian on Wednesday. “It’s historical sexism – this is how it’s been done since the beginning of time.”
MacNair said a patriarchal culture on sets diverted work to stuntmen on the pretext that some action sequences were too perilous for female colleagues with less experience. “The word safety gets abused when stunt coordinators want to use their buddies.”
MacNair has filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that enforces anti-discrimination laws, against the production company Hollywood Gang for alleged discrimination and against the actors’ union Sag-Aftra for allegedly failing to enforce its own rules.
The action, first reported by Deadline, has divided stunt performer message boards and Facebook pages, with some warning of “chaos” in the industry and others welcoming what they see as an overdue reckoning in a sector so far untouched by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.
MacNair’s lawyer, Brenda Feigen, said wigging reflected a boys-will-be-boys fraternity which created a hostile and discriminatory work environment. “Women are socially and professionally excluded and belittled.”
The disputed wigging happened on the set of an upcoming MGM dystopian horror thriller called The Domestics shot in New Orleans in 2016.
In one scene the lead character played by Kate Bosworth was to drive a car that would skid and be riddled with bullets.
MacNair was the only stuntwoman on set that day and offered to do it but Nick Gillard, a British veteran stunt coordinator, donned a wig and Bosworth’s outfit and performed the stunt.