Film Forward

What Is 'Wigging,' And Why Has A Stuntwoman's Complaint About It Riled Up Hollywood?

"I can't believe we're still fighting about this in 2018 ..."

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We often tend to focus on issues involving the top-billing actors and actresses for a movie, but there's a group of people who do some of the hardest work in Hollywood but don't get enough credit: stuntpeople. There's a controversy currently brewing within this film industry community and it involves a problematic practice called "wigging."

Deven MacNair — who has more than 70 stunt credits on IMDb within the last decade of being in the business — has filed what is believed to be the first sex-discrimination lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission over "wigging." You can read it in full here. "Wigging," for those not in the know, is when stuntmen wear wigs and clothing to perform stunts that stuntwomen could be and, arguably should be, doing.

This act is quite similar to another which has been debated about in Hollywood for many years: "painting down" a stuntperson. "Painting down" is when a stuntperson who is not of the race or ethnicity of the person being doubled and has makeup applied to make them visually passable for that role. It's similar to blackface and has deep roots, and is still happening today. "Painting down" takes jobs away from stuntpeople of color while "wigging" takes opportunities away from stuntwomen and gives them to stuntmen, who already dominate the craft.

What spawned this revived interest in "wigging" was when MacNair was working on the New Orleans-based set of MGM's The Domestics back in November 2016. She alleges that the film's stunt coordinator, Nick Gillard, decided to do a "gag" — the industry term for a stunt — in a wig and heels because it was too dangerous for her to complete.

While MacNair, who claims to have been the only stuntwoman on set that day, said she was "trained and able-bodied" enough to have completed the "gag" but Gillard did it anyway. Gillard sticks by claims that the "gag" was too unsafe — even insinuating, in an email exchange with MacNair from January 2017, that MacNair was unqualified for the job. MacNair was also called "a hater" and someone who's "trying to gain celebrity by hating" in Gillard's response.

The lawsuit filed by MacNair calls this is a clear violation of a weakly worded 2014 union rule that states that stunt coordinators "shall endeavor to identify and recruit qualified" stuntpeople for jobs who specifically match the race and/or sex of the star being doubled.

"I owe my career to stuntmen, and I am grateful for everything they've taught me and for keeping me safe for the last 20 years. I am beyond grateful, but this has to stop," MacNair told Deadline, saying she has gotten death threats since coming forward and this her career "hasn't been helped" by doing so. "It was an easy stunt, and every stuntwoman and stuntman should be offended that they played the 'safety card.' Literally anyone who drove to the set that day could have done it."

This is by no means the first time "wigging" has been a topic of conversation in show business. Back in the 1970s, a stuntwoman named Julie Johnson was replaced by a stuntman on the set of the Charlie's Angels ABC TV show for a skimobile scene. Fast-forward to 2016 when Johnson conducted an informal poll and found that, of the 36 stuntwomen who responded, 17 had experienced stuntmen "wigging" and that seven of them had seen it happen more than once.

According to the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film, when looking at the top-grossing films for 2017, the action genre has the lowest percentage of women relative to men in terms of representation at only 13 percent. Not only that but stuntwomen — when they are hired and don't lose out to "wigging" — face unequal pay in relation to stuntmen.

Message boards for those in this career have been intense since MacNair filed the lawsuit, with people falling on two sides of the argument relatively split down gender lines. Men are up in arms about it, with some saying it could destroy their beloved profession, and women are in support of it, saying this discussion and potential action against it is long overdue.

In the EEOC lawsuit filed in September 2017, MacNair aims to sue Hollywood Gang, the production company behind The Domestics, as well as the SAG-AFTRA union, who she alleges did not assist her in relation to this complaint. MacNair does say that, having gone through this personally, she will not allow "wigging" on any project her name is connected to as a stunt coordinator.

"I can't believe we're still fighting about this in 2018 — that there is a need for this fight, but there is," MacNair said. "This should have been resolved when Julie Johnson brought this up in the 1970s, but it wasn't, so here we are."

Cover image via Ben Heys / Shutterstock

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