The Unsung Heroines of Hollywood: Remembering the Stuntwomen We Lost in Movies

by Sherif M. Awad

Stuntwomen are the fearless performers who bring action scenes to life on the big screen. They risk their lives and bodies to create thrilling moments of cinematic magic. But often, their work goes unnoticed and unappreciated by the public and the industry. And sometimes, their work costs them their lives.

In this article, we will pay tribute to some of the stuntwomen who died while doing their job, and celebrate their legacy and contribution to film history. We will also explore some of the challenges and dangers that stuntwomen face in a male-dominated and competitive field.

The Early Days of Stuntwomen

Stuntwomen have been around since the silent era of film, when women performed stunts such as horse riding, car chases, diving, and hanging from buildings. Some of the pioneers of stunt work were Helen Gibson, Pearl White, Grace Cunard, and Helen Holmes, who starred in their own serials and did most of their own stunts. They were admired by audiences for their courage and skill, and inspired many other women to join the profession.

However, as film became more popular and profitable, women were pushed out of the industry by men who wanted to control the production and distribution of movies. By the 1930s, stuntwomen were replaced by men wearing wigs and dresses, a practice known as “wigging”. Women were also denied access to training, unions, and insurance, making it harder for them to find work and protect themselves.

The Rise of Stuntwomen in the 1970s

It was not until the 1970s that stuntwomen started to regain some ground in the industry, thanks to the emergence of new genres such as blaxploitation, martial arts, and women-in-prison films. These films featured strong female characters who fought back against oppression and violence, and required stuntwomen who could handle the physical demands of the roles.

Some of the trailblazers of this era were Jeannie Epper, who doubled for Lynda Carter on Wonder Woman; Peaches Jones, who doubled for Pam Grier on Foxy Brown and Coffy; Donna Evans, who doubled for Raquel Welch on The Wild Party; and Debbie Evans, who became one of the top stunt drivers in Hollywood. These women broke barriers and stereotypes, and proved that they could perform stunts as well as men.

The Tragic Deaths of Stuntwomen

Despite their achievements and talents, stuntwomen still face many risks and challenges in their work. They have to deal with sexism, racism, ageism, harassment, low pay, lack of recognition, and lack of safety regulations. They also have to cope with the physical and emotional toll of performing dangerous stunts that can result in injuries or death.

Some of the stuntwomen who died while working on movies include:

  • Sonja Davis, who fell from a four-storey building while doubling for Angela Bassett on Vampire in Brooklyn (1995).
  • Paula Dell, who suffered a fatal stroke after performing a car stunt on The Blues Brothers (1980).
  • Kun Liu, who was killed by an explosion while doubling for Jet Li on The Expendables 2 (2012).
  • Joi Harris, who crashed into a building while riding a motorcycle without a helmet while doubling for Zazie Beetz on Deadpool 2 (2018).
  • Olivia Jackson, who lost her arm and suffered severe facial injuries after colliding with a camera crane while riding a motorcycle while doubling for Milla Jovovich on Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016).

These are just some of the examples of the tragic losses that stuntwomen have endured in their line of work. Their deaths highlight the need for more awareness and respect for their profession, as well as more safety measures and accountability from the filmmakers and studios.

The Future of Stuntwomen

Stuntwomen have come a long way since the early days of film, but they still have a long way to go. They still face discrimination and marginalization in the industry, and they still have to fight for recognition and representation. They also have to adapt to new technologies and trends that are changing the nature of stunt work, such as CGI, motion capture, and digital doubles.

However, stuntwomen are also resilient and resourceful, and they have a strong sense of community and solidarity. They mentor and support each other, and they advocate for their rights and interests. They also continue to push the boundaries of their craft, and to showcase their skills and creativity in diverse and challenging projects.

Stuntwomen are the unsung heroines of Hollywood, and they deserve to be celebrated and honored for their work. They are not only stunt performers, but also artists, athletes, activists, and pioneers. They are the ones who make movies come alive, and who inspire us with their courage and passion.
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