An informal poll of Hollywood’s stuntwomen has found that nearly two-thirds of the 43 respondents have been bullied or sexually harassed in the workplace. The same number said they knew of others who had experienced on-the-job bullying or harassment. More often than not, the poll found, the perpetrators were the shows’ male stunt coordinators.
The independent poll, conducted by veteran stuntwoman Julie Johnson, also found that nearly 40% of the respondents had witnessed men putting on dresses and wigs to double for actresses and that 35% had witnessed “paint downs” – the application of makeup to allow a white stunt person to double for a minority actor. (Read the full survey results here.)
The poll, which offers a rare glimpse into the lives of women who work in Hollywood’s most dangerous profession, found that more than 75% of the respondents said they’d been injured on the job. Nearly 40% said they’d been injured more than three times, with two of the women saying they’d been injured “too many times to count.” Two of the respondents said they’d been “intentionally injured” on the job by fellow stuntmen, while one stuntwoman reported that she’d been the victim of an attempted rape or assault in the workplace. Nearly 25% of the respondents said they sometimes feel uncomfortable or unsafe on the job.
More than half of the respondents said they don’t feel they get an equal shot at “non-descript” jobs – doubling for characters whose gender is not specified in the script, such as a bank teller who is shot or a pedestrian who gets hit by a car. The vast majority of these jobs routinely go to male stunt performers.
Johnson has been a leading advocate for stunt safety and gender equality for more than 50 years. In 2013, I co-authored her biography, The Stuntwoman. She sent the survey to 164 stuntwomen, about a quarter of whom responded. On Thursday, she sent the results to SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White. “Over many years,” she told him, “far too many of us have been subjected to bullying and sexual abuse.”
Johnson is co-founder of the Stuntwomen’s Association and was co-chair of the SAG Stuntwomen’s Sub-Committee in 1982 when the guild authorized its first and last survey of stuntwomen. Three decades later, she thought it was time for another. She contacted the union but said she was told it would take a year, if it could get approved at all. So she decided to conduct her own.
The 1982 survey got nearly identical results. That questionnaire was sent to 85 stuntwomen – with 44 responding – one more than in Johnson’s survey. Of those, 27 (61%) said they’d been sexually harassed on the job – about the same as in Johnson’s survey. Safety was another key concern then, but in those waning days of the cocaine-fueled disco era, drugs were an even bigger issue. Today, two-thirds said that drugs and alcohol abuse is not an issue in the workplace. In 1982, more than half said that they’d witnessed drug dealing in the workplace, had worked with someone under the influence of drugs and had been offered drugs on the set.
Johnson said that she hopes her survey will lead to “a better understanding of our lives in this business. Producers and the union have to work closer together on our behalf. It’s long overdue.”