As Canada’s WorkSafeBC continues to investigate the death of Joi “SJ” Harris, a stuntwoman who was killed in a motorcycle accident when a stunt went wrong on the Vancouver set of Deadpool 2 last week, new information suggests that Hollywood’s lack of diversity might have indirectly contributed to her death. Sources tell The Hollywood Reporter that crew members alerted producers that Harris was too inexperienced to safely pull off the stunt, noting her previous crashes on practice runs, but were ignored because producers felt an African-American woman needed to perform the stunt for accurate representation. (Harris was standing in for Atlanta’s Zazie Beetz, who plays Domino, in the scene.) Though Harris was a licensed racer, Deadpool 2 was her first film and the accident occurred during her first live take.
“I cringed every time she went out. Like, when is she going to crash?” a stuntperson who trained with Harris tells THR, saying they left the film after producers failed to listen to concerns. “They were warned, yes!” According to the crew, Harris was the second choice for the stunt because the first hire struggled on the motorcycle in rehearsals.
One stunt coordinator who spoke with Deadpool 2 crew members says that producers risked Harris’s life by wanting Beetz to have a racially correct double: “The producers put pressure to have somebody of the same sex and ethnicity in a position she wasn’t qualified to be in. The stunt coordinators caved to the pressure. All the stunt people could do was take it to their higher-ups. They’re going to follow their chain of command.” THR’s sources believe that producers having few options for an experienced black female stuntwoman is endemic of Hollywood’s whiteness across all fields. In 2014, the issue made headlines when Gotham attempted to use a white stuntwoman in blackface as a stand-in for a black actress despite union opposition to such practices; the show eventually cast a black stuntwoman and said it “made a mistake.”
On Deadpool 2, “if the movie’s producers had to go outside of the normal stunt community to find someone who was both qualified and resembles the actress, that speaks to a problem of lack of diversity of stunt performers,” a contributor to the annual “Hollywood Diversity Report” tells THR.