Thu, Jun

Black stuntmen and women celebrate 55 years

(L-R) Albert Lord, Community Build VP Government Relations and Arts Programs, Jacqueline Hamilton, District Director for the Office of Congress member Karen Bass, Alex Brown, President and co-founder of the Black Stuntmen and Women Assocation, and Robert Sausedo, President of Community Build. Photo by Ian Foxx

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The 1963 hit comedy It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was billed as “The wildest chase comedy on record!” The academy award-winning film was a stuntman’s dream with over a dozen dare devil chases by car, sea and air. At that time, White stuntmen in addition to performing stunts for White actors also doubled for White actresses and Black actors.

In the film, actor Eddie “Rochester” Anderson played a cab driver involved in a high speed car chase.  As with all actors of color at the time, Anderson’s stunt double was a White actor in “paint-down.”

This did not sit well with Eddie Smith, an extra coordinator, who was on set that day.  He complained to director Stanley Kramer about the use of White stuntmen doubling for Black actors.  Kramer told Smith there were no Black stuntmen.  In 1967, the Black Stuntmen and Women’s Association was created to fill that void.

Smith recruited members of a group of Black Civil War reenactors who specialized in horseback riding to become stuntmen.  They met in Athens Park in Los Angeles and practiced jumping off bleachers, rented cars and motorcycles to practice driving stunts — doing donuts and evasive slides in empty parking lots.  Gradually they developed the skills to become professional stuntmen.

According to Alex Brown, President and co-founder of the Black Stuntmen and Women’s Association, the BSA faced opposition and open hostility from White stuntmen who felt insulted that their financial base was being eroded. 

Supported by the NAACP, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and EEOC principal litigator Margaret Kreeger, the Black Stuntmen and Women’s Association filed and won 32 lawsuits in their fight for civil rights in the Hollywood film and television industry, including a 1976 case that forced the major studios to abide by a federal consent decree against discriminatory hiring.

The civil rights struggle of the Black Stuntmen and Women’s Association opened doors for women stunt players along with job opportunities for minorities in other craft and guild crew positions with film and television production companies. 

The Black Stuntmen and Women’s Association was a featured element in the 2019 city hall exhibit, “Blacks in Cinema” and is a component of the African American Heritage Month Legacy Project curated and produced by Albert Lord, Vice President of Government Relations and Arts Programs for Community Build, Inc.  The “Blacks in Cinema” exhibit is currently on display as a walking window exhibit in Leimert Park at the offices of Community Build, Inc.

In October, Community Build Inc., held a reception to honor BSA’s 55th anniversary and to recognize the BSA’s surviving founders and active members.  Jacqueline Hamilton, District Director for the Office of Congress member Karen Bass, presented BSA members with certificates of the transcript Congress member Bass entered into the 117th Congressional Record on August 30, 2022, recounting BSA’s civil rights contributions to the film and television industry.  The Congressional Record is the official record of the proceedings of the Congress of the United States.

“Little did this group, organized for collective job opportunities in 1967, consider how impactful their
struggle in shaping the Hollywood entertainment landscape would be,” remarked Community Build President Robert
Sausedo. “Just as Thurgood Marshall used the court system to fight Jim Crow and dismantle segregation in the 1950s, the Black Stuntmen and Women’s Association used the court system to advance the opportunity for inclusion and diversity in front and behind the camera.”