Review: Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story

Year: 2020
Duration: 84 minutes
Director: April Wright

By Kate Boyle

Since the dawn of motion pictures, women have been performing stunts to amaze and entertain their audiences. From the silent film era, to the rise of female action stars in the 1970s, to the present day abundance of superhero movies, “Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story” gives audiences a look into the history of these amazing women and their fight for equal representation and recognition in their field. The film is based on a book of the same name by Mollie Gregory. Both the movie and the book are a must for any fan of film or Hollywood history.

Helen Gibson, considered the first American professional stunt woman

April Wrights‘s film is what every good documentary should be: educational, interesting, emotional, and has a great narrator. It informs and entertains the viewer on a subject that has rarely, if ever, been in the spotlight before now. Michelle Rodriguez, known for her roles in the Fast & Furious franchise, narrates and appears in the film. Mollie Gregory’s book is equally fabulous and includes much more history and personal stories than what could fit in a 90 minute movie.

If you like the film, I strongly encourage you to pick up the book as well. It includes stories about the early days of film that didn’t appear in the movie. Things like how movies and female stunt performers inspired women during a time they had little to no power (1910s-1960s). These early adrenaline junkies had a huge social and political influence. Imagine you’re a woman living in the early 1900s; you have almost no rights, you’re constantly being told you’re the weaker sex, but then you see women leaping from trains and doing high speed car chases. How could you not be inspired to fight the patriarchy?

“April Wrights’s film is what every good documentary should be: educational, interesting, emotional, and has a great narrator.”

Jeannie Epper and Lynda Carter on the set of “Wonder Woman”

Both the book and movie features stuntwomen from all eras sharing the stories of stunts they did, what they experienced, and details of the way they were treated by their male colleagues. A prominent speaker in the documentary is the legendary Jeannie Epper. She is best known for being Lynda Carter‘s body double on “Wonder Woman” (1975-1979). Epper, now 79, recalls her times as a stuntwoman and is just as eager to throw herself down a flight of stairs or out a window as she was 45 years ago. She talks about how many people who get into her line of work come from families of stunt performers and how it’s just a way of life for them.

“Stuntwoman: The Untold Hollywood Story” is a phenomenal documentary that any fan of how movies are made should want to see.”

Another family known for their stunt work is the Moneymaker’s. Heidi Moneymaker has been Scarlett Johansson‘s double in every Marvel movie since “Iron Man 2” (2010). Her sister Renae Moneymaker frequently doubles Jennifer Lawrence, was Brie Larson‘s double in “Captain Marvel” (2019), and Margot Robbie‘s in “Birds of Prey” (2020). These are just a few of the women that make an appearance in the film. These women (and countless others) perform amazing skills, usually in ridiculous outfits and high heels, and very few know who they are or recognize their contributions. This film gives them a voice.

Melissa Stubbs- Stuntwoman, Stunt Coordinator, and Second Unit Director

“Stuntwoman” also covers issues in the industry that women are fighting today. Women aren’t trusted to do high risk stunts, or are forced to do the same stunts as men, but in skin tight costumes and heels. Unlike the men, their costumes leave them with nowhere to hide protective padding. It’s unfortunately common practice that a director or stunt coordinator will assume that a stunt can’t be done by a woman (usually they deem it too dangerous) so they put a wig on a male stunt person and let him do it. This insulting practice is known as “wigging” and is not fair to the women who are prepared to do the stunt, the actress whose character is being portrayed, or to the film itself. Even with today’s technology there’s no way to edit footage of a man in a wig to make him convincingly look like the female actress he is supposed to be. A well known instance of this is in “The Princess Bride” where Princess Buttercup mysteriously grows a mustache as she’s rolling down the hill after Westley. Other modern issues mentioned are how women stunt coordinators and directors are rare and how difficult it is to move from in front of the camera to behind it in stunt work.

It’s insane that the experiences of women in a field where they are literally lighting themselves on fire, crashing cars, or leaping off of buildings, mirrors the same struggles women have faced in any career field since women entered into the workforce en mass. Women are doubted, and considered “the weaker sex,” and often aren’t afforded the same respect as men even after proving themselves time and time again. These experiences make the film relatable to women in any field. I cannot recommend this movie (or the book) enough. “Stuntwoman: The Untold Hollywood Story” is a phenomenal documentary that any fan of how movies are made should want to see. It’s available on VOD September 22nd on various platforms.

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