Black Stuntmen's Association Fought Good Fight
Thursday, 16 February 2012 05:50
Founded in 1967, the Black Stuntmen's Association was created to combat practices that denied black stuntmen the opportunity to perform in Hollywood productions. The group helped break the color barrier in the stuntman profession.
Prior to their advocacy and activism, stunts for black actors were done by white performers "painted down" to a darker complexion. The organization filed lawsuits against several major movie studios to help bring an end to this discriminatory practice and to ensure equal opportunity and access to stunt roles for all races.
Members of the Black Stuntmen's Association went on to redefine the profession, performing in iconic films and television programs like "Dirty Harry," "I Spy," "Uptown Saturday Night" and "Buck and the Preacher."
Willie Harris of Las Vegas, Nevada was one of the first members of the Black Stuntmen’s Association.
"It was racism, pure and simple," Harris told reporters in a 2009 interview. Harris retired from stunt work after suffering a back injury in 1974. "They didn’t want to pay us the same price or give us the same protection they were giving white stuntmen, and a lot of guys were getting hurt."
Edward "Eddie" Smith co-founded the Black Stuntmen's Association in 1967 and fought to generate jobs for African-American stuntmen in Hollywood. Smith died in 2005 at age 81.
Smith formed the group after, while serving as an extra on the star-filled 1963 comedy "It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World," he saw a white stuntman being made up to be the stunt double for black actor Eddie "Rochester" Anderson.
Over the years, Smith worked as a stuntman or stunt coordinator on numerous television shows and films, including "MASH," "Dirty Harry," "Beneath the Planet of the Apes," "Blazing Saddles," "Earthquake," "Scarface," "The Nutty Professor" and the TV miniseries, "Roots."
He also took pride in being the only African-American stunt coordinator on (pictured) "Live and Let Die," the 1973 James Bond movie.
Other African-American stuntmen in Hollywood include Alex A. Brown, Calvin Brown and Charles Meshack. Their talents can be seen in many films including "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka," "Coming to America," "Action Jackson," and "Hillstreet Blues."
In 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives issued a resolution honoring the Black Stuntmen’s Association and the Coalition of Black Stuntmen and Women for their "dedication in pursing equality and justice for all people." The Smithsonian Institute is currently planning to curate an exhibit to honor the Black Stuntmen's Association in Washington, D.C.
The organization's founding members will receive the President’s Award during the 43rd NAACP Image Awards, which will be broadcast live on Friday, Feb. 17 on NBC. Past honorees include President Bill Clinton, Soledad O'Brien, Ruby Dee, Muhammad Ali and Van Jones.
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