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Double Dare

July 10th, 2006     by Nicole Cohen     Comments

Has anyone seen the awesome documentary Double Dare (directed by Amanda Micheli)? It follows two stuntwomen as they try to negotiate the politics of Hollywood and working in a male-dominated industry. Its fascinating stuff! The film features two women: Jeannie Epper, who comes from a famous family of stuntpeople and has had a long career as a stuntwoman, and the much younger Zoe Bell, who was the stunt double on Xena: Warrior Princess and did Uma Thurmans wicked stunts on Kill Bill (which she won awards for).

Bell is tough, fearless and super talented, and watching her do martial arts and backflip around movie sets is totally inspiring. But Eppers story is the most fascinating, and the most touching. Epper is famous for her stunt work on the TV show Wonder Woman in the late 1970s, when she doubled for Lynda Carter and did all the fighting, jumping, high falls and car crashes. Now a grandmother, Epper has to deal with ageing in Hollywood, something that is practically a sin for women. Its interesting to see how the sexism and gendered aspects of stunt work play out differently over Eppers career.

First of all, stunt work is more dangerous for women. Men can get away with wearing baggy clothes that hide padding and protection, but, as all the women interviewed for the doc note, women in films are usually expected to wear skimpy, tight or elaborate costumes that dont allow for padding. Imagine Wonder Woman wearing padding under her tiny red, white and blue outfit? Another interesting thing to note is the way in which stuntwomen have to be tough and act like one of the boys, yet at the same time have to fit into Hollywoods feminine ideal. Many people interviewed for the film commend Epper on her ability to maintain her femininity while getting down and dirty with the men.

Even now, at the end of a successful career, Epper is coming up against gender barriers. One scene in the film takes place at a planning meeting for the World Stunt Awards. The committee is suggesting categories like Best Car Chase and Best Fire Scene, when Epper interrupts to note that there are much fewer stunt scenes for women in films and suggests creating separate categories for men and women, like in the Academy Awards. The men at the table were very reluctant to do so, worrying it would give women special treatment. But the biggest struggle Epper faces is her career path. Usually, when stuntmen get too old to do crazy stunts, they become stunt coordinators. Epper, on the other hand, hasnt been offered such a promotion, even though she is extremely qualified and extremely passionate about her work. She knows that things would be different if she were a man.

The film is also really entertaining! There are some excellent behind-the-scenes look at stunt work, including one very high, stomach-turning jump. I highly recommend checking out the website, especially the history of the film, and renting a copy. (I would also be remiss not to mention that Shameless featured a Q&A with a stunt woman in our second issue!)

Tags: film reel, on the job

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