She's Taking On 'Wigging' and Whitewashing in Hollywood Stunts
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Deven MacNair wants stunts for women and people of color to be performed by them — a fight that‘s endangered her career.
By Michelle Bruton
During a high-octane action scene in the 2016 film The Domestics, bullets rain down on a car driven by actress Kate Bosworth as she skids out of frame. Anyone familiar with the secrets behind movie magic can guess that Bosworth isn’t actually driving the car in this particular stunt (or “gag,” as it’s known in the industry); rather, her stunt double is. What may surprise you is that the stunt double, in this case, is a man dressed in a blond wig and Bosworth’s clothes.
“Wigging” is a film industry term that describes the practice of male stunt performers standing in for women on gags. “Painting down” is its cousin, in which White stunt performers stand in for actors of color. Veteran stunt performer Deven MacNair has made it her mission to speak out against these insular practices and demand change, jeopardizing her own employability in the industry in the process.
When I did this, I was just fucking fed up.
MacNair looks like an athlete. The college softball player wanted to play professionally, but with few opportunities, she “figured stunt work was the way to go.” Though MacNair grew up in Ventura, not far outside Los Angeles, she knew nothing about the film industry going in. What’s more, “my parents were really not encouraging of it,” she says, laughing. Mom, a respiratory therapist, and dad, a pharmaceutical salesman, were from L.A. proper but certainly didn’t help MacNair make any Hollywood connections. “To this day, they are unimpressed,” she says.
One of the first gigs landed by MacNair was as a second-generation — not the Netflix version — Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW) girl. She traveled with GLOW and the United Service Organizations throughout the U.S., Mexico and Canada as her character, “Freedom,” before returning to L.A. and building up her film résumé, which now boasts more than 70 credits.
MacNair was on the set of The Domestics when Bosworth’s car gag was being filmed in November 2016. As the only female stunt performer on set that day, MacNair assumed she’d be doubling Bosworth in the scene. But stunt coordinator Nick Gillard deemed the stunt too dangerous for MacNair and opted to do it himself. When MacNair saw Gillard in the wig, she asked him to reconsider. When he declined, citing safety concerns, she called in a complaint to the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) hotline, alleging that Gillard, in refusing to allow an on-set stuntwoman to perform the scene, violated the Civil Rights Act and the 2014 Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers Agreement. The latter states that when a stunt performer is filling in for someone identifiable as female or an ethnic minority, the “producer shall endeavor to cast qualified persons of the same sex and/or race involved.”
What allows the erasure to continue is that slippery word “endeavor.” How hard is it to endeavor to find stuntwomen, or stuntpeople of color, in an industry everyone knows is nearly void of them? “There’s truth behind the idea that there aren’t that many women available, there aren’t that many Black women available, there aren’t that many Black men available,” says MacNair. “And that’s because they haven’t allowed them to get there.”
SAG-AFTRA declined to confirm its stunt performer membership numbers. However, none of Hollywood’s four main stuntmen organizations has a female member. MacNair’s actions have led two — Stunts Unlimited and the International Stunt Association — to consider changing that. But while MacNair has become one of the most in-demand stunt coordinators in the industry, she’s rarely hired to do actual stunt work anymore. That’s due in large part to her two 2016 complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, believed to be the first-ever legal action taken against the practice of wigging.
“I didn’t know the MeToo movement was going to happen,” says MacNair, who filed her complaint around the same time the Harvey Weinstein revelations surfaced. “When I did this, I was just fucking fed up. Quote me on that! I was fed up.”
The union launched an investigation into MacNair’s claim that lagged for nearly a year, during which MacNair didn’t receive a single call for stunt work. Eventually, the union sent the production company behind The Domestics, Hollywood Gang, a “notice of violation” but did not issue a fine.
For the most part, MacNair is fighting alone, though she does have some vocal supporters. “I can’t stress enough how beneficial Deven is to young producers like myself and young directors in stepping into the creative process in a natural and cohesive way to make sure that we can still execute our vision in a way that’s safe and also appropriate and equal,” says Edgar Rosa, a producer who has worked with MacNair as a stunt coordinator on numerous sets.
But even those who say they support her take issue with the public nature of her lawsuit. “What happened to [MacNair] was wrong,” stuntman Lane Leavitt told Deadline Hollywood. “I’ve seen it happen and heard about it happening many, many times. It’s been going on for 100 years. But this is an issue that should be addressed within the community itself. She shouldn’t have gone outside the community.”
For her part, MacNair (who declined to reveal her age) says it isn’t even about the money that stuntwomen or stuntpeople of color miss out on when their services aren’t used. Because stunt coordinators, who hire stunt performers, can essentially hire whomever they want, it’s easy for them to claim that their White male friends and acquaintances have more experience than other stunt performers. But MacNair’s mission, which she puts into practice when she works as a stunt coordinator, is to make sure women and people of color are equally hired for stunts, especially nondescript ones, to gain the skills they need to earn future work.
These days, MacNair is working with SAG-AFTRA to include female stunt coordinators in its Diversity in Casting Incentive. She also revealed that she has just been hired as the intimacy coordinator — managing sex scenes to prevent abuse on set — for the new Paramount/CBS show Strange Angel.
The next time you watch a film, you may not notice the split second in which a stuntwoman doubles for an actress driving an exploding car or jumping off a building. But if you happen to, MacNair is working tirelessly to be sure not only that she’s safe, but that her job is too.
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- Michelle Bruton, OZY Author Contact Michelle Bruton