A new report claims the death of a stuntwoman on the set of Deadpool 2 could have been prevented. The driver, 40-year-old Joi “SJ” Harris, was killed earlier this month while performing an action sequence as Zazie Beetz's character, Domino. Police said she died at the scene, though her cause of death is still under investigation. Production on the film was immediately shut down following the accident, but resumed two days later. It's expected to remain on course for its previously-scheduled June 2018 release date.
Though Harris was an experienced motorcycle rider and road racer, the maneuver was reportedly her first motorcycle stunt on a film, and she crashed during her first live take. The incident was described to Deadline as a “freak low-speed accident," and a source for the publication refuted accusations that she was unqualified for the job and had landed it because, as an African-American woman, she was a believable stand-in for Beetz.
Now, however, THR has published claims for crew members that they warned producers Harris was too inexperienced to safely pull off the stunt, but were ignored because the team felt an African-American woman needed to perform the stunt for accurate representation. "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 stunt performer who had been training Harris the day before the crash told the outlet.
THR went on to report that the stunt was considered rather straightforward and would have been a simple feat for a seasoned professional. It called for a rider to sit astride a Ducati 939 Hyperstrada, exit a building, descend a ramp over three small stairs, and stop on a nearby landing. But according to a preliminary report issued by WorkSafeBC, Harris "continued driving beyond the planned stopping spot on the stairway landing and continued to drive down a second ramp built over the bottom stairs and across the roadway,” where she hit a sidewalk curb and was thrown from the bike and through a plate-glass window.
Conrad Palmisano, a veteran stunt coordinator, claimed to the outlet that he had been in close touch with several people on set, and that "producers put pressure to have somebody of the same sex and ethnicity in a position she wasn’t qualified to be in." Sources also alleged Harris had crashed the bike on two separate occasions before the accident, and that production had earlier hired another woman who hadn’t performed well on the motorcycle in preparation for the stunt. Darnell Hunt, the dean of Social Sciences at UCLA who helps produce the annual “Hollywood Diversity Report,” told THR the incident speaks to the problem of lacking diversity amongst stunt performers.
It's worth nothing that, due to the last-minute nature of her addition, Harris was also not wearing a helmet, which would suggest that safety may not have been prioritized as heavily as it should have been. But as conflicting details continue to emerge, it's difficult to discern exactly what happened or who is ultimately responsible.
- Deadpool 2 (2018) release date: May 18, 2018