EXCLUSIVE: A sex-discrimination charge filed with the EEOC by stuntwoman Deven MacNair has Hollywood’s stunt community wigging out, with one veteran stuntman claiming that the industry’s most dangerous profession – which saw two stunt-related deaths last year – “is now in chaos” and “spiraling out of control.” Others, however, scoff at the notion, arguing that the change coming to the stunt community and to the industry at large is long overdue.
MacNair’s complaint (read it here), which is lighting up stunt performer message boards and Facebook pages, is believed to be the first legal challenge to what’s known in the stunt business as “wigging” – the age-old practice of stuntmen putting on wigs and dresses so they can double for actresses.
MacNair’s attorney, Brenda Feigen, says that MacNair received a death threat over the weekend.
“I’m getting all these weird calls,” MacNair said, declining to discuss the death threat. “I get calls from guys saying it’s a ‘career-ender.’ If it is, I’m OK with that. I’ll take it. I knew what I was getting myself into. But production can’t get away with this any longer.”
None of Hollywood’s four main stuntmen’s organizations currently has a female member, but MacNair’s complaint, and the rising tide of stuntwomen speaking out against harassment and discrimination, has so rattled the insular, male-dominated stunt business that two of them – Stunts Unlimited and the International Stunt Association – are said to be considering allowing women to join for the first time in years.
MacNair’s complaint stems from an incident on the New Orleans set of MGM’s The Domestics on November 22, 2016, when the film’s British stunt coordinator, Nick Gillard, decided that a stunt – known in the trade as a “gag” – was too dangerous for her to do and did it himself, in a wig and women’s clothes.
MacNair, who has more than 70 stunt credits during the past 10 years, has asked the EEOC to investigate her charge against the film’s production company, Hollywood Gang, and against SAG-AFTRA, which she accuses of “not assisting me in this matter” after she filed a complaint with the union.
MacNair says she called in a complaint to the union’s hotline on the night of the incident – 11 months before the #MeToo movement revved up – and then confronted Gillard about an Instagram photo that surfaced of him in the wig and women’s clothes (see above).
He responded to her via email in January 2017, saying that “as far as acting effeminate in the photo that was somehow demeaning to women. Jeez. I have six sisters. I probably know more about women than you do.”
Then he called her “a hater” who’s “trying to gain celebrity by hating” and warned her that “the Karma police will catch up with you soon.”
MacNair, who told Deadline that her career “hasn’t been helped” by all the uproar her complaint has caused within the stunt community, said that she has only the highest regard for stuntmen. “I owe my career to stuntmen, and I am grateful for everything they’ve taught me and for keeping me safe for the last 20 years. I am beyond grateful, but this has to stop. It was an easy stunt, and every stuntwoman and stuntman should be offended that they played the ‘safety card.’ Literally anyone who drove to the set that day could have done it.”
MacNair, who was one of two stunt coordinators on the new Netflix horror film The Open House, says she’s not going to allow “wigging” on any show she works on again. Her EEOC complaint, seen here for the first time, was filed on September 6 – a month before the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke.
In her complaint, she noted that the Domestics stunt scene that day involved doubling for actress Kate Bosworth, whose stunt double was to drive a car that would be riddled with bullets as she skidded and drove out of the cameras’ view. MacNair, who says she was the only female member of the stunt crew on the set, actually had been hired to double for another actress that day, but when the call was made for the car scene, she thought she would be given the job.
“I am trained and able-bodied,” her complaint states. “When they called over the walkie for the stunt to be performed, Nick Gillard, the male stunt coordinator, reported to the set. I also reported to the set, not realizing Mr. Gillard was going to perform this stunt. He then put on Kate Bosworth’s clothes and Kate Bosworth’s wig. He had decided to drive the getaway car.
“I told Mr. Gillard that I was ready and able to do the stunt and that men should not do women’s stunt work. Mr. Gillard alleged that the scene was ‘too unsafe’ and refused to let me do it. This is a false statement. There was nothing unsafe about the scene. The car was pre-set with ‘squibs,’ small remote-controlled exploding caps commonly used in gun scenes. The driving required nothing more than screeching tires and driving away. In short, Nick Gillard performed the stunt dressed as a woman and refused to allow an on-set stuntwoman to perform the scene, a clear violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as well as 2014 AMPTP Agreement. I filed a notice of violation with SAG-AFTRA on November 23, 2016 at 10:30 p.m. that evening.”
The union’s 2014 contract, under which the film was shot, noted: “Where the stunt performer doubles for a role which is identifiable as female and and/or Black/African-American, Latino/Hispanic, Asia/Pacific Islander or Native American, and the race and or sex of the double are also identifiable, producer shall endeavor to cast qualified persons of the same sex and/or race involved. … To achieve these objectives, stunt coordinator shall endeavor to identify and recruit qualified minority and female stunt persons.”
Feigen, however, said that the contract’s provision requiring that producers and stunt coordinators “shall endeavor” to hire stuntwomen to double for actresses does not comport with the law. “The law requires much more than that,” the attorney said. “The law requires that they treat people equally, and they are not doing that. But SAG-AFTRA isn’t even enforcing its weak rule.”
The union, she says, “is not stepping up to protect its members. They go through the motions of saying they care, but they don’t. It’s so outrageous that I really feel that this is a winning case. In fact, there are no female Navy SEALs. Stuntwomen can do everything these stuntmen do. I doubt that there is a single stunt that these women cannot do.”
SAG-AFTRA did not respond to Deadline’s request for comment.
The union has known about “wigging” for decades. In the 1970s, stuntwoman Julie Johnson was replaced by a stuntman to double for Kathleen Nolan in a skimobile scene on the Charlie’s Angels TV show. Nolan was president of SAG at the time. In 2016, Johnson conducted an informal poll and found that 17 out of 36 stuntwomen who responded had witnessed men doubling as women, and that seven of them had seen it more than once.
Minutes from a 1984 SAG wages and working conditions committee meeting also show that the guild had long suspected male stunt coordinators of using safety as a ruse to allow stuntmen to double for actresses, thus creating more job opportunities for their brethren. The minutes reflect that Rodney Mitchell, the guild’s affirmative action officer, “felt that ‘safety’ was being used as a subterfuge by coordinators. They say repeatedly that a man was hired to double a woman for safety concerns.”
MacNair alleges that the stunt coordinator’s actions that day not only violated Title VII but also the union’s contract because the stunt coordinator did not “endeavor” to hire a woman for the job but gave the job to himself instead, under the guise of safety.
Gillard, a Brit who held the world record for the longest fire stunt – a two-minute full burn on 1992’s Alien 3 – has maintained that he did the job not because of discrimination but because of safety, and because he’d heard she was not a good stunt driver.
“I can only assume you think you should have done the driving?” he asked in their email exchange from January 2017. “As you know it was Kate’s assistant who asked me to give you a job. I knew nothing about you other than you were a wrestler. Over the 40 years I have been in this business I have learned it is always wise to ask advice when working in a new town, so of course I asked around about you. The advice that came back was on the whole good. Great in a fight, hits the ground, can act, but don’t let her anywhere near a car stunt — most seemed to relate to a time when you had to be replaced after failing five times to slide a car onto a mark.”
Gillard, who did not return Deadline’s request for comment, also denied taking a job from a woman. “I didn’t take anyone’s job, and I certainly didn’t get paid for it,” he said in their email exchange. “I explained to you on the day why I was driving the Chevy; the car was dangerous, had no brakes, and the last time we had used it, it had caught fire, and for that reason it was too dangerous for the actress to do.
“My main job as stunt coordinator,” he added, “is to ensure the safety of cast and crew, and if that involves me doing the stunt, then that is what will happen.”
MacNair told Deadline that even if she wasn’t right for the stunt, the coordinator should have “endeavored” to find another woman who was. “But they got caught and made all these excuses: that it wasn’t safe, that the brakes were bad, that Deven’s not good enough. Fine. Fine. But the stunt was on the call sheet the day before, so why wasn’t a stuntwoman hired for the day?”
In their email exchange, Gillard told MacNair that “in the final shoot out of The Domestics, there were 8 stunt people – 5 guys 3 women – of which you were one. I made that happen, so you’ve got that bit wrong too. I’d like to say I am amazed at your behavior over this, but I kinda saw it coming, should have stuck with my gut feeling from the beginning.”
Then he told her: “We have spoken to both SAG Louisiana and SAG Hollywood about this and made them fully aware of the circumstances regarding this incident.”
Responding to her complaint, the union launched an investigation soon after the incident, but MacNair was still in the dark about its findings – and feeling that she’d been blackballed for complaining – when she sent the union’s diversity department an email on August 14, 2017, pleading for an update on the status of her case. “Once again,” she wrote, “I am requesting in writing what was the result of the SAG-AFTRA investigation against the feature The Domestics and stunt coordinator Nick Gillard? If the investigation is done, please let me know the results. I put my career on the line for this one, no doubt. I got my first call for stunt work only a week ago; this was the first call as a stunt performer since Nov 2016!”
On that same day, Joi “SJ” Harris, an African-American motorcycle racer making her debut as a professional stuntwoman, was killed on the set of Deadpool 2 in British Columbia. Her death lit up the stunt industry’s message boards with claims that a more qualified white stuntwoman was available for the job but that the producers, acting out of political correctness, hired an inexperienced black stuntwoman to double for a black actress – a charge the company vehemently denies.
Addressing the issue of safety versus diversity, stuntman Peter Antico, a member of SAG-AFTRA’s LA local board, noted in a Facebook post: “This issue must be safety first always. If a woman is capable of performing a particular stunt doubling her actress, she should always be hired first. If no women are capable and it is a safety issue, then the coordinator’s job is safety first, period. Diversity got a woman killed in Canada. That breaks my heart. She should be living.”
The results of the Canadian authority’s investigation into that accident still are pending.
A week later, having still not heard back from the union, MacNair emailed SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris and Adam Moore, the union’s national director of EEO & Diversity, saying: “Please, please, someone respond to what is happening. I have no updates. NEVER one update of the investigation.”
Moore got back to her the next day, telling her that the union had sent the production company a “notice of violation.” In a brief summary, he told her that “the production explained that a female stuntwoman was engaged for the day to double the female principal actor and drive at high speeds. Subsequent to her engagement, the production decided to have the principal actor drive the car herself at a slow speed and the action would be sped up in post-production. During shooting, it was determined that the scene should also include the car fishtailing from a stop as it raced away. A decision was made to have the male stunt coordinator on set perform the fishtail. We were told this was done out of a concern for safety for the female principal actor, and due to the inability to engage a female stunt performer in the short timeframe during shooting. No other incidents like this one occurred for the remainder of the production.”
Thanking her for bringing this matter to the union’s attention and for her “vigilance to improve the lives of stunt performers,” Moore told her that “we will continually work with this production, and all productions, to eliminate the practice.”
He also told her that “we are still engaging with production to obtain an adequate response” to the portion of the notice of violation that asked the company to provide “any specific actions you have taken that would fulfill your contract obligation and/or the specific actions you will take to ensure that this does not recur.’”
Two weeks later, MacNair filed a complaint with the EEOC against the union and the production company. In January 2017, shortly after she notified the union of the incident, she wrote in an email that the union’s diversity department “has been lovely and helpful.” But in the end, she claims, the union didn’t come through for her. “They’ve been supportive without doing anything,” she told Deadline.
The male-dominated stunt community is sharply divided over her threat to sue, with some claiming that it will destroy the stunt business as the know it. Danny Epper, the scion of the famous Epper family stunt dynasty, has been one of the most vocal critics of her plan to sue. “For f*ck sake,” he told her in a message board exchange. “To file a lawsuit??? F*cking really?”
In his exchange with MacNair, Epper added: “And where do we go when there is a stunt that you, or any other female, doesn’t want to do??? Where do I get to file a lawsuit when I don’t get hired??? For f*ck sake, Dev… Do you realize what you are doing???”
He added: “This saddens my heart to no end. Really, Dev…I mean really???”
She replied: “Tell me what you mean Danny. No woman was hired for this stunt that was planned. The call sheet has all parts of the stunt listed but no stuntwoman hired. I just happened to be there that day doing another role. I was even asked by the 2nd AD if I was doing this gag when it got called over the radio. Why are you sad?”
He answered. “I’m sad cuz a lawsuit is what you decided to do. Hiring a man to do a stunt that a female stunt person shouldn’t be hired to do. Not cuz of discriminatory BS, but because of the health and safety of you females…???”
Her reply: “The stunt was the car went out of a drive and turned right (with squibs) Danny at no more than 30 mile per hour. How offensive to say a male needs to do this car gag!??!! Do you not know any women who can do that? I literally said any woman who drove to set may be qualified…..we needed a 5’3”-5’5” Caucasian female for the job….should be an easy stunt job to fill.”
Joining the message board, stuntwoman Karin Silvestri Coye asked Epper: “Totally curious. What stunts should a female not be hired to do? And that only a man can do?”
Before long, actor and stuntwoman Danielle Reierson joined the fray, answering Epper’s rhetorical question about when he will get to sue. “Yes, Danny,” she wrote, “If you … do not get hired because production says that they’d rather have a younger guy do the job, even though you are qualified and the job doesn’t require a certain age, or because you’re a Christian, or if you’re not hired because of any other reason that is covered under the federal employment discrimination laws, you should sue.”
Then stuntman Lane Leavitt joined the online debate. “These events will have lasting and dire consequences for the profession of the Hollywood stuntman and woman,” he wrote. “Our industry is now in chaos, it’s spiraling out of control, and our profession is on the verge of being crushed, and that is exactly what Danny is feeling, sensing and seeing. The human tragedy, the economic impact, the complications all of this will force onto each and every one of us is real, on the emotional, physical and professional levels we all will be under from now on.”
That was too much for Reierson. “I find it so interesting,” she wrote, “that a man’s take on giving women equal treatment in the stunt industry is that ‘our industry is now in chaos, it’s spiraling out of control’ and that the ‘profession is in the verge of being crushed.’ Really?? Men not being the only ones in control does not mean that everything is going to fall to shit. It’s time for the status quo to change – in MANY industries. The people with all the privilege always feel oppressed when they have to start sharing it with others.”
Leavitt, however, stuck to his guns. “This is a turning point for the stunt profession, for better or worse. We as a community decides which it will be. This will have a lasting negative impact on our profession, all of these lawsuits. It involves the government in our standards and practices, instead of we professionals within the community setting the standards and practices. That’s huge!”
Reierson shot back. “You’re not the only one lamenting the fact that women standing up for themselves is causing upset and change in the world. That’s all that is happening here. Women are saying ‘enough.’ Yes things are changing, but that doesn’t mean everything is falling to shit. It means things are getting better.”
Epper told Deadline: “This is going to kill the stunt world. Bringing lawsuits is going to destroy what we do as an art form. If producers are getting hammered by multimillion-dollar lawsuits, they’ll hire CGI professionals to do our work. It costs four times more and looks cartoony, but at least they won’t have to deal with all these bullshit lawsuits. We don’t want the courts involved. We need to deal with this ourselves – the stunt community and the union.”
Leavitt says he sees both sides. “I completely support Deven 100%,” he told Deadline. “What happened to her was wrong. I’ve seen it happen and heard about it happening many, many times. It’s been going for a hundred years. But this is an issue that should be addressed within the community itself. She shouldn’t have gone outside the community. But she was forced to because nobody was willing to stand up and say, ‘This has to stop.’”
He added: “We have to man up to protect our industry and establish some 21st century standards and practices. It’s going to be hard, but if we don’t address this, the government or the courts are going to address it for us, or the studios will outsource our jobs to China or Mexico or somewhere else where they don’t care about safe working conditions or women’s rights.”
In the end, he said, the question of who does which stunt “gets down to safety and it gets down to art, and to maintain our creative liberty, are we going to address this as an industry or allow somebody else to tell us how it’s going to be?”
On his Facebook page, Leavitt noted that he is the husband of a stuntwoman and an honorary member of the United Stuntwomen’s Association – which, along with the Stuntwomen’s Association of Motion Pictures, are the two leading separate-but-equal organizations for female stunt performers. He wrote that his wife “has stood strong against this kind of abuse numerous times with me at her side” and that they have continued to work “even after taking her stand against some of the most powerful men in the industry. I have to wonder how badly this has hindered her career, or even mine, for taking a stand against abuse with her.”
He added: “The time for lip service and pay in unmentionable favors for roles on screen is over, we can hope. It’s time for stuntwomen and actresses to be hired on the content of their character, a woman’s market value on set and what they bring to the screen. The hiring of wives, girlfriends and party girls instead of professional stuntwomen, great actresses or great crew needs to stop, or at least diminish in its frequency, in my opinion.”
Epper and others argue that although most stunts are planned well in advance of filming, situations often change rapidly on set and a coordinator has to make snap decisions, with the safety of the cast and crew always being the main concern. And if that means putting a wig and a dress on a stuntman, so be it; it shouldn’t be a matter for the courts or a jury to decide.
Stunts Unlimited is expected to take up the question of admitting two women on Wednesday. “We’re thinking about it, but it’s not official,” said Pat Romano, the organization’s president. “We’ve never been against women. We had two women members in the 1970s, when we first started. We’re always looking to find the best of the best. We haven’t had a girl in a while, and there are a lot of great girls out there coordinating.”
He also said he’s “never seen a guy dress up as a girl, and I’ve been in the business 30 years,” adding, “We as a group are against guys doing that unless it’s a safety hazard.” Stunts Unlimited’s Instagram page, however, features a photo of a member on set in front of a trailer, dressed in a wig and a woman’s dress.
The same member can also be seen at left atop a motorcycle on the set of Transformers 2 wearing a wig and a lady’s blouse.
More than a year ago, long before the #Me Too movement took hold, MacNair described herself as “a woman that is now going to fight ‘the man,’ so to speak, on the phrase that the stunt coordinators ‘shall endeavor’ to hire the correct gender, ethnicity, etc. I had the honor of seeing this for the last time Nov. 23, 2016, in New Orleans on The Domestics. It will never again while I am present. Men wigging themselves and calling off qualified stuntwoman who could do the job but are not allowed…Never again!”
She told Deadline. “I can’t believe we’re still fighting about this in 2018 — that there is a need for this fight, but there is. This should have been resolved when Julie Johnson brought this up in the 1970s, but it wasn’t, so here we are.”