We watch them jump, fall and get blown up on screen, but most of the time we have no idea who they are. Stuntmen are known to be among Hollywood’s most invisible people.
Willie Harris is a stuntman. In fact, he was among Hollywood’s first black stuntmen to take the screen.
He lives in Las Vegas now, and is still the president of the Black Stuntmen Association. He still actively promotes the work these men and women did and still do today.
Harris got his start through the legendary stuntman Calvin Brown, who was the first African-American stuntman in Hollywood. He doubled for Bill Cosby on the TV show "I Spy."
Harris says when he first started out white stuntmen would wear black face to double as black actors on film. It's a practice known as 'paint down.' He also said black stuntmen were given less protective gear and less money before several successful suits against Hollywood studios by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
According to Harris, the efforts made by the Black Stuntmen Association helped change Hollywood, making it more open to African Americans in front of and behind the camera.
Harris believes there is still work to be done to improve diversity in Hollywood. He thinks people working in the industry now must speak up about the issue.
Something as simple as a scene involving a fight in a bar could have a more diverse cast of what are known as 'non-descript,' which means stuntmen that are involved in the scene but aren't doubling an actor.
Willie Harris, president, Black Stuntmen Association
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