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September 27, 2019

Double Standard

A stunt pro decries an industry practice that reduces work for women

Amy Amatangelo
  • Bobby Quillard

Deven MacNair has never shied away from risks. That trait has served her well as a stuntwoman.

She grew up loving sports and played softball for Northwestern State University in Louisiana while earning a degree in theater. “Softball was my whole life until I was 22,” she says. “My career was coming to a close, and I didn’t want it to. I figured out I could either coach or become a stuntwoman.”

Having no family or connections in the industry, she took a risk and attended an open audition for a stunt show in Japan. “It was my very first audition, and I got two years of work out of it.”

Back in the U.S., she juggled substitute teaching with professional wrestling before launching into stunt work for television and movies, including Jack Reacher, 21 Jump Street and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

In late 2016, on the set of the MGM film The Domestics, she was told she could not perform a stunt for actress Kate Bosworth — that the male stunt coordinator would do it in a wig and a dress.

The practice is called “wigging,” and it was the third time MacNair had seen it that year. “The first time I saw it, I wasn’t sure what I saw. There was a man with a dress walking by me. The second time it happened, I said nothing but it made me sick. I thought, ‘If it happens again, I’m going to say something.’”

So she took perhaps her biggest risk yet: she launched complaints with SAG-AFTRA and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and a lawsuit against MGM.

Since then, MacNair has gotten few stunt jobs. “Did I know how bad it was going to get? No,” she says. “I had no idea how badly some stuntmen want to keep all the jobs for themselves. One stuntman called me and said, ‘How dare you do this? As a stuntman, I doubled women 11 times last year.’ I thought, ‘As a stuntwoman, I didn’t even work 11 times last year.’”

While stunt jobs are infrequent, she’s forging a new career as a stunt coordinator. Working on the Disney Channel’s Jesse made her realize how much she enjoys kids’ shows, where she’s able to call upon her experience with both stunts and teaching school.

She’s also working as an intimacy coordinator on shows such as CBS Access’s Strange Angel, making sure everyone on set feels safe and supported during scenes suggesting sex or sexual assault. “Being a woman on set instead of a six-foot-four linebacker stunt guy brings something different to the table,” she explains.

Last year, MacNair worked as stunt coordinator on the Kelsey Grammer film The Space Between. Ironically, she says, she didn’t hire women, because the film only required stunt doubles for men. “That was really telling for me,” she says. “We don’t get to work that often anyway. When a woman can double an actress, let her.”  

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 6, 2019

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