The set of Deadpool 2 believe that a lack of diversity in the stunt world played a huge part in the death of 40-year-old stuntwoman, S.J. Harris, on August 14.
The 20th Century Fox sequel’s producers had been exerting pressure to have the 40-year-old Harris, who had raced professionally but had never worked on a film, perform that day’s stunt because, as an African-American, she was a believable stand-in for Zazie Beetz, who portrays Domino in the film. But several crewmembers warned the producers that Harris wasn’t ready, a production source tells The Hollywood Reporter.
One member of the stunt team said, “She was improving, but I was watching her and, oh my God, I thought, ‘It’s just a matter of time before she crashes into a wall or runs somebody over.”
They believe that Harris was not anywhere close to being ready for the stunt, and the fact that there are not many black women in the stunt business shows why she was pushed so hard.
From a technical perspective, the stunt was relatively straightforward. It called for a rider sitting astride a Ducati 939 Hyperstrada motorcycle to exit a building, descend a ramp over three small stairs and stop on a nearby landing. For a stunt professional, it would have been a cinch. But Harris had never even been on a film shoot before.
And the crash occurred on the first live take. The accident has drawn outrage and tough questions from the Hollywood stunt community. “The producers put pressure to have somebody of the same sex and ethnicity in a position she wasn’t qualified to be in,” says Conrad Palmisano, a veteran stunt coordinator and second unit director with 47 years in the entertainment industry, including credits on Sleepless in Seattle and 21 Jump Street.
Several people were forced to jump out of the way of the speeding bike. Immediately after she crashed, many ran over to offer first aid and saw that Harris was grievously injured, according to people on the set.
Whatever happened, those who had worked closely with Harris have apparently come to the conclusion that it was likely rider error. The question for investigators is, why was she put in this position? She had crashed the bike on two separate occasions days before the accident, say two people familiar with the shoot.
And Harris was the second person enlisted to do the job, as the production had earlier hired another woman who hadn’t performed well on the motorcycle in preparation for the stunt, a source says.
UCLA Dean of Social Services at UCLA Darnell Hunt said, “If the movie’s producers had to go outside of the normal stunt community to find someone who was both qualified and resembles the actress, that speaks to a problem of lack of diversity of stunt performers.”
“I cringed every time she went out,” says the person who had been working with Harris, “Like, when is she going to crash?” This person eventually left the set and told the producers she wanted nothing more to do with the movie. “They were warned, yes!”
While I can see where they are coming from with this, there are a few other factors that need to be brought up as well:
- Harris chose to get on that bike and go. She was not forced to. If she did not feel like she was ready, she should have said so and not gotten on the bike. It was her choice.
- We cannot force people to go into the stunt business. The best they could do is target more diverse audiences and hope they take the bait. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
Either way, it is a tragedy that she died in that manner.
What is your take on it?
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