In the 1960s, rarely were Black actors cast for major Hollywood roles. But what about those Black actors behind-the-scenes, the stuntmen (and women?) who performed their action-packed and highly-dangerous stunts on set?
Unfortunately, their fate fared no different.
Willie Harris and Alex Brown, two of Hollywood’s first Black stuntmen began to break into the industry when white actors painted in blackface handled the stunts for Black actors. In response to these “paint downs,” Harris “wanted to prove that Black guys [could] do stunts.” But first, he had to find a trainer and, unsurprisingly, no one wanted to train Black men who thought they could be Hollywood stuntmen.
So, Harris and Brown did as we always do – they got resourceful and figured it out on their own. Training in outdoor space and balancing day jobs with training schedules, the men eventually worked their way into Hollywood and joined the Black Stuntmen’s Association.
Founded in 1967 by Ernie Robinson, the Black Stuntmen’s Association (BSA) was founded in response to racial discrimination in the film and television industry. The Association used legal remedies and philanthropic support to secure jobs for Black stuntmen and promote both equal opportunity and equal pay for women and minorities across Hollywood.
According to the Black Stuntmen Association’s website, the BSA has produced both stunt performers and 2nd unit directors – all Black – and all whose names should be known. Henry Kingi, Tory Brubaker, Richard Washington, Calvin Brown (stunt double for Bill Cosby), Jophrey Brown (stunt double for Morgan Freeman), and Greg Elam – just to name a few. So, when you think about the success of some of your favorite actors like Will Smith, Don Cheadle, Wesley Snipes, Cuba Gooding, Jr., and Denzel Washington – think about the Black men behind and to the side of them: the ones who stand in for the dangerous, awe-inspiring, and action-packed stunts that keep us coming back to the theaters.