As it turns out, not only is it hard for Black actresses to get prominent roles on TV, but it’s quite difficult for Black stuntwomen to get jobs too. And all they’re trying to do is throw themselves around and show off a few karate moves for like five minutes out of a 30-minute or 1-hour show.
As Deadline pointed out in a few exclusive reports, in the first season of Zendaya Coleman’s Disney show, K.C. Undercover, a White woman was appointed as the stuntwoman for Coleman. And while Coleman is biracial (her father is Black, her mother is White), her character, K.C., and her character’s family (which includes Kadeem Hardison playing her father), are all Black. While this information might evoke a raised eyebrow from you and me, it enraged Black stuntwomen. They said the choice to bring in a White stuntwoman instead of a Black one is a discriminatory hiring practice that goes against union contracts and guidelines. Including a non-discrimination clause that says a show’s stunt coordinator must “endeavor to cast qualified persons of the same sex and/or race involved.” Zendaya’s stuntwoman was not only White but the wife of the show’s stunt coordinator. Nepotism or nah?
One Black stuntwoman, who remained nameless, spoke in depth to Deadline:
“I am very concerned about this issue, especially when I was also told that a SAG rep was in the make-up trailer and saw for his own eyes that the double is not African American and mentioned that no dark make-up was applied to her face, so therefore it’s OK. This is not OK. As a light-skinned African American, we come in all different shades and just because no dark make-up was used doesn’t make Zendaya less African American. She identifies as African American in an African American family in an African American show.”
Another stuntwoman, whose identity was withheld, also reached out to Deadline, sharing an email she sent to the SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). In it, she voiced her concerns about the casting decision:
“In several instances a local appropriate ethnic double is available but instead a non-ethnic, Caucasian stuntwoman is hired to double an ethnic actress. I’ve personally been involved in several cases where a Caucasian stuntwoman was brought on to double a black or ethnic actress…In this case, and many others, the contract is being overlooked by SAG-AFTRA. KC Productions and the stunt coordinator have several local qualified stuntwomen to choose from.”
Deadline’s story, and the many complaints from Black stuntwomen involved prompted an investigation by the SAG-AFTRA. In the end, they found that the Disney show’s production company, It’s A Laugh Productions, were in compliance with the union’s contract. However, SAG-AFTRA’s National Director of EEO and Diversity, Adam Moore, advised producers of the show to “do a better job of identifying and bringing in underrepresented stunt performers, particularly women of color.”
And so they did. After interviewing 14 candidates who were African-American, Latina, Asian and White stuntwomen, interviews that included input from series producers and Coleman, a new stunt double was hired. The woman is a veteran from New Zealand, who is Caucasian and Maori. She will begin work on the show this week. And if you’re still wondering why the chosen stuntwoman isn’t Black, it’s because criteria for a stunt double actually only calls for a “comparable build (5’11”, approximately 110 lbs.) and skin tone to Zendaya, requisite skill set and availability for the entire run of the season.” Those of SAG-AFTRA felt the woman picked also fell in line with the non-discrimination clause.
We don’t know if the stuntwomen who spoke out about the now replaced White double will be pleased with the new stunt double. But at least it’s a step in the right direction to help employ qualified stuntwomen of color in general. Hell, it wouldn’t be asking much when you’re talking about casting for a show centered around Black characters…