Saturday, August 26, 2017

When cinema meets political correctness - and people die


I'm disgusted to read that a stuntwoman's death was entirely avoidable, if only the production company hadn't been riddled with political correctness.

The death of stuntwoman Joi "SJ" Harris on the set of Deadpool 2 is tragic. It's even more heartbreaking as we've learned that the that crew members on the set consider her death to have been preventable.

"She was improving, but I was watching her and, oh my God, I thought, ‘It’s just a matter of time before she crashes into a wall or runs somebody over," a source tells The Hollywood Reporter. This source had been training Harris to perform the stunt, and noted that another member of the stunt staff had spoken to producers about their safety concerns. Harris had endured two previous crashes during the practice stunts.

. . .

It appears that the producers did not take the stunt team's worries seriously, and were adamant that the stunt be performed by an Afrian-American woman in order to more closely resemble the character Domino, played by actress Zazie Beetz. Joi Harris had previously never performed motorcycle stunts on film, and was primarily a road racer. According to Deadline, Harris was not wearing a helmet during the take, because Domino wasn't wearing one in the scene.

"The producers put pressure to have somebody of the same sex and ethnicity in a position she wasn’t qualified to be in," stunt coordinator Conrad Palmisano told THR. "The stunt coordinators caved to the pressure."

There's more at the link.

In days past, before political correctness came to rule the entertainment industry so completely, it would have been common practice to have a stunt double wear makeup to simulate the correct skin shade, and perform like that.  Apparently that wasn't a sufficiently "authentic" solution for the production team in this case . . . so a less qualified, less competent stuntwoman was used - and she died for it.

One wonders whether a charge of (at least) manslaughter (or, to be politically correct, personslaughter) wouldn't be appropriate.

Peter

13 comments:

Aesop said...

Um...probably not.
Production companies hire people to do a job.
They don't hold a gun to their heads, and all parties are of legal age.
As a rule, most injuries and deaths on set happen to anybody but the stunt people, because unlike the rest of the crew, they know what they're doing is dangerous, they take precautions, and they stay inside their own envelope.

But in this case, someone valued a paycheck (which they now can't spend, because dead) over common sense, and agreed to do something beyond their capabilities.

This isn't PC, it's simple greed and stupidity.
It means the stunt coordinator was stupid, because he let someone unqualified try something beyond their ability. Their rep will suffer no small amount as a result. And the way you get good, experienced stunt people is by finding people who know their limitations, and will say "No" to a producer when asked to try something stupid. The coordinator's job is to tell a producer, "Boss, he/she can't do what you want. I can try to find you someone else, or we can change the stunt to get what you want and stay safe; your choice." But the stunt boss on the set didn't do that, either because stupid, or didn't know the person in question wasn't good enough. I promise you, they wish now they'd done something differently, for about a thousand reasons.

Stunt people dying is slightly less rare than commercial airplanes crashing in this country, because most of them are pretty damned good, and nearly all of them are good enough not to do things that'll get them killed.

But every once in awhile, Mr. Darwin has to cull someone not-ready-for-primetime. In this case, literally.

The number of headaches the fatality will cost the cast, crew, producers, studio, ad infinitum, is more than enough reason for someone who knows their business to tell a producer "No! And let me tell you why I'm not going to do it your way, because it'll save you a ton of headaches..."

Instead, they used someone trying to "fake it until they make it", who got put in a position of not only not being good enough, but not knowing they weren't good enough, or ignoring that for a fee (which they'll now never get) and this time it cost them the ultimate price. Their business is to walk away from something beyond their skill set. When you don't do that, physics explains it to you. And only one who ever gets to come back after the first major malfunction is Wile E. Coyote.

It's simply unfortunate, but PC had nothing to do with it.
The weak link in all this was the person who paid the price.
Everyone else is now just along for the ride through the aftermath.
It was a mistake, on several levels, but dragging PC into it is probably not even one of the first fifty reasons responsible.

There's also a budget/intelligence bell curve with productions, and being this was a blockbuster sequel, the budget is huge, and the intelligence level from production is way down at the low-end on the right edge of that bell curve. So they'll pay a fat settlement for wrongful death, as a cost of doing business. And a few producers, and a director, won't screw up that way again. (They may find new ways, however.)
But that's why the safety guidelines for productions, just like for aerial flight and shipping/boating, tend to be written in blood.

And I'm saying that with only 20-something years working in feature film and television production, on-set.

WL Emery said...

The producer, director, and whoever the hell else was in charge bear the responsibility of bad judgement. This type of error is typical of management that doesn't suffer contradiction, but usually the consequences don't involve the loss of life.

At the same time, Joi "SJ" Harris had a choice in this matter. By all accounts, this was an easy stunt to perform - for an experienced stunt rider. SJ was a novice, or newbie if you will. She was a motorcycle road racer, not a stuntman. The two involve different skill sets, and she didn't have the skill. She knew it, and the other stuntmen watching and trying to train her knew it, but because she was a black female she was allowed to continue. Foolishly, as it turns out.

Q: What do you call a motorcycle rider without a helmit?
A: An organ donor.

I have no sympathy for SJ, and very little for the other people on the set who knew SJ shouldn't be anywhere near this particular stunt and did nothing more than whine about it to their superiors. I'd have walked out.

The real tragedy here is that nothing will change. The producers will continue to listen to their well trained sycophants, and, given time and circumstances, there will be other injuries and maybe even a death or two. Hooray for Hollywood.

Greybeard said...

50-yr helicopter pilot here, speaking through that experience:
Vic Morrow and two kids died because someone made a mistake.
"Airwolf" and "Magnum P.I." killed more pilots than you might imagine.
With the advent of CGI, why are we STILL taking these risks?

Uncle Lar said...

And cynical curmudgeon that I am, I suspect there are those associated with the movie who are mainly thinking how many more tickets the obligatory "in loving memory" dedication will sell.

Quartermaster said...

Several of the "higher ups" producing the Movie version of "Twilight Zone" back in the 80s were convicted of crimes as a result of the death of Vic Morrow from being struck by the main rotor of UH-1 that crashed during filming. Someone may be held responsible here as well.

What I have seen far too much is people will take something they are not qualified to do and foul it up royally. No one put a gun to SJ's head to make her do it, and she should have had the sense to back down. Arrogance, stupidity, or both, were involved here, and the stunt coordinator, Director and the Producers, no matter who made the decision it had to be a black woman needs to flogged.

I'm really getting to hate "Captcha."

Nate Winchester said...

1 way i can see PC involved even considering Aesop's excellent comment.

1) with high def and larger screens, it's much easier nowadays to see the stunt people than ever.
2) therefore to have character X do a stunt, they need as close a match as possible.
3) so the big question is, is X a minority or not? (I don't know this comic character myself.) If she was a majority, then the stunt people would have had more possible choices of matching stunt folks. However if they alter the character to make her more inclusive, then the chance of finding a matching stunter greatly decreased.

But that's just a theory, i could be wrong.

Will said...

The stunt rider has an odd background. Only started riding in '09, and then took up roadracing in '14. In her thirties, she was 40 when she died. That's rather late to begin riding motorcycles.

Roadracing doesn't automatically instill an ability to handle bikes in a slow motion scenario, which this movie scene was. Stated speed was about 10mph. Although she had practiced it at least 4 time prior, she rolled past her stop point and continued across the street and hit a curb, which tossed her over the bars (highsided) and into a large glass window.

This was her first time with film rolling, and it's possible she got flustered with the thought of being filmed for the big screen, and mentally froze. Then again, she had video shot of her racing (and crashing), so that might not be valid. Perhaps she had a medical issue suddenly appear, that distracted her. If so, that should turn up in the autopsy

It's been my observation/experience that roadracers that have dirtbike experience are much better at handling bikes in less than optimum conditions. Riding for the cameras would certainly fit that category.

TL;DR:
Bottom line, she shouldn't have crashed in that situation. Even a brake failure would not have been a problem, since she had lots of room and time to turn and coast to a stop. She screwed up, on a very simple maneuver.

Feather Blade said...

The problem with this whole "get the stunt man as close in appearance as possible to the actor", even with HD filming and projection... is that Hollywood has had the technology to replace images of stuntmen with images of the actor since Jurassic Park.


It would have been trivial for them to replace the image of a helmeted stunt rider with the unhelmeted character.

PC killed this stunt woman.

von Stroop said...

Ugh re my comment, sorry for bad edit-am using phone.

von Stroop said...

Great comment. Technical info very interesting. But...I can almost guarantee they had an SJW, maybe several,in executive positions of this production that pushed this. The gambled with a woman's life. The payoff was a big time virtue signal if it worked. Young, fresh out of Marxist college, full of revolutionary ideas. They lost the bet. She lost her life. Brutal. Physics are a tool of the patriarchy indeed.

Lord T said...

So just to be clear here. Someone who wasn't qualified for the job applied for and got the job due to her sex and ethnicity. She then dies because she hasn't a clue. Isn't this Darwinism at work?

But hey, if we can also screw the SJWs who hired her for not providing the cotton wool she needed then I'm with it.

Aesop said...

1) PC is stupidity, but all stupidity is not PC.

2) CGI costs one helluva lot of money. WTF do you think movie budgets have gone to the $100M-$1B mark? It ain't just star salaries.
Watch the 7-minute credit crawl of people who have to manipulate every pixel on screen.
Let me break it down for you:
A notional Blockbuster Tent Pole flick: 60-day shooting schedule, $200M budget.
Production days (not counting above-the-line, i.e. director, stars', writers', producers') salaries, come to ballpark $100-250k/day. On a 60-day shoot, that's $15M for the entire movie. They'll spend 3-10X that on post-production.
Because off-production days are 5X as long (6-12 months). So if you get something in the camera that you don't have to have 400 or 4000 techs play with, pixel by pixel, in 4K UHD, for weeks in post-production to duplicate what one good rider could've gotten in 3-5 takes on the day, you save millions in post-production costs, which cuts your budget, or lets you put the effort, time, and money elsewhere, for better on-screen payoff.
CGI movies look like CGI.
No go watch McQueen (and his stunt rider) in The Great Escape, Heston's chariot race in Ben Hur, or any one of 100 James Bond stunts, and tell me how CGI makes better movies.
I'll wait right here.

3) People die on movie sets putting up scaffolding and painting walls.
Usually, exactly like this case, because they were stupid, and somebody ignored common sense safety guidelines.
You can't eliminate stupid unless you eliminate people.
When a stunt goes wrong, that's what you've just seen done.

4) Twilight Zone: The Movie is a hobby of mine; some day - after I retire - I'll write that book. Vic Morrow and two kids died because the director, whose movies I love, and his minions, decided to break rules, laws, and morality, and make it so. They lied about everything to everyone. They lied to the pilot, they lied to the FX guy, they lied to the actors, to the fire inspectors (there were three) on-set, to the kids, their parents, their teachers, ad infinitum. It was the classic "More! Bigger! faster!" Hollywood f***-up, and they killed three people. The exec producers were booked onto planes to Acapulco (out of subpoena range) within 30 minutes of those deaths. Everyone knew what they'd done, and got caught. Then they lied some more, and ended up pinning it on the FX guy. IIRC, no one ever went to jail.
John Landis and several other people in charge should have.
Don't get me started.

This wasn't PC, or planned manslaughter. Just pure greedy stupidity.
It was a rookie doing a stunt she was unqualified for, because she wanted to fake it until she made it.
And the fraud cost her own life.
Such unprofessional hara-kiri has a culprit, and she's already been punished.

Quirel said...

Somehow, I don't think political correctness had much to do with the casting choice. It came down to wanting as close of a match to the character as possible, because CGI costs money.

The only explanation you need is that safety was cut to save time and money. I've seen it often enough to realize that it's damn near universal.