On Disney Channel’s K.C. Undercover, 18-year-old actress Zendaya plays K.C. Cooper, the daughter of African American spies. On the show, K.C. is black; her mother is black; her father is black; her nerdy brother is black; her robot sister is black; and her grandfather is black. But her main stunt double for Season 1 was white. Several black stuntwomen have told Deadline that they want the show to hire black stuntwomen for the job when the show begins production on its second season in September.
For them, it’s not just about jobs – it’s about ending a little-known, but not uncommon, discriminatory hiring practice. “It’s a civil rights issue that I’ve personally been fighting my entire career since the late ’70s,” said one veteran black stuntwoman who’s been spearheading the effort to get SAG-AFTRA to do something about it. Three other black stuntwomen, who asked that their identities not be revealed, have contacted the guild about their concerns in an email thread obtained by Deadline.
The non-discrimination clause of the SAG-AFTRA contract states that a show’s stunt coordinator must “endeavor to cast qualified persons of the same sex and/or race involved,” but in this case, it doesn’t appear that he endeavored very much. Deadline has learned that the stunt coordinator’s wife, who is white, was hired to double for Zendaya on many of the episodes. Two other stuntwomen – neither one of whom is black – were also used to double the show’s star.
“The producers of K.C. Undercover are in compliance with the SAG-AFTRA agreement,” Disney Channel spokesperson Patti McTeague said. “Zendaya is Caucasian and African-American. Her stunt doubles are Hispanic and Caucasian. Each fully-qualified stuntwoman matches Zendaya’s height, physique, and skin tone. Considerations, including job qualifications and special training – martial arts, gymnastic and dance – plus efforts to match ethnicity, height and physique, factor into casting a body double for the series. Thus far, three stunt performers have doubled for the series star Zendaya.”
SAG-AFTRA began looking into the matter in May, and on June 23 sent show producers a letter asking them for proof that their stunt coordinator had endeavored to find a qualified black stuntwoman to double for Zendaya, who is bi-racial but self-identifies as a person of color. The union reportedly sent a field rep to visit the show’s make-up room to see if they were applying dark make-up to the white stuntwoman to better pass as the actress – a practice known as “painting down.” According to McTeague, “No special make-up was required to match Zendaya’s skin tone.”
“So far as we’ve been able to determine, there’s been no painting down on the set of K.C. Undercover,” Adam Moore, the guild’s national director of EEO and Diversity, told Deadline.
SAG-AFTRA spokesperson Pam Greenwalt said the guild is looking into the matter but declined to discuss specifics. “SAG-AFTRA does not discuss the details related to contract claims or complaints. That said, after being advised of alleged contract violations related to the stunt provisions in the non-discrimination provision of the contract, we have had productive communication with the producers of K.C. Undercover.”
“How does this happen?” said a veteran black stuntwoman who wrote to Moore three weeks ago. “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.”
Two weeks ago, another stuntwoman urged Moore to take action. “I’d like to express my support for productions hiring qualified ethnic stuntwomen for ethnic actresses,” she told him in a July 15 email. “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. Most recently, the production K.C. Undercover is using a Caucasian stuntwoman to double an 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.”
On May 13, Moore emailed two of the stuntwomen, telling him that “we will report back what we find out from production with respect to what was done to adhere to the language in the contract that deals with the producer’s commitment to ‘endeavor to cast qualified persons of the same sex and/or race’ and to ‘endeavor to identify and recruit qualified minority and female stunt persons and qualified stunt persons with disabilities prior to the commencement of production.’ ”
After Deadline reached out to Moore for a comment Thursday, the union contacted four of the stuntwomen who have been pressing the matter and scheduled a conference call for early next week.
“SAG-AFTRA’s commitment to diversity – and to encouraging diverse hiring by our employers – is well-known,” Greenwalt said. “This doesn’t mean that we advocate for the hiring of one person or one group, nor do we advocate against the hiring of any person or group. We advocate for opportunity and equal access while ensuring that people have the ability to portray the character in question. Skill set is also a crucial factor when stunt work is involved. As long as stuntwomen in general and stuntwomen of color in particular are underemployed this industry, SAG-AFTRA will continue to engage with producers throughout all phases of production to ensure that underrepresented stunt people are given the opportunity to compete for all jobs for which they are qualified. If anyone has reason to believe that a union producer isn’t living up to their commitment to endeavor to identify and hire qualified stunt women, stunt performers of color and stunt performers with disabilities, we encourage them to contact SAG-AFTRA’s EEO & Diversity department so we can keep people honest in this crucial commitment.”