"Olivia, I had no idea there were female stunt drivers. We just put a guy in a wig."
This is what was said to me in November 2019 as I left a commercial production meeting, effectively negating the industry visibility that I've continued to fight for since my first day on set. It wasn't the first time I'd heard comments like this; I've heard whisperings of men wearing wigs since I started as a stunt driver fifteen years ago. It sadly wasn't a new idea to SAG-AFTRA either. And despite it being against SAG-AFTRA rules, it has never been enforced under the current leadership.
When I left that production meeting, I was completely frustrated and admittedly a bit defeated. I got into my car, and when I turned the key, I thought, "I am going to start an all-female stunt driving team and blast the team to all the producers, production companies, and ad agencies." This moment where I chose to take action and act to affect change, instead of sitting back in despair, is how the Association of Women Drivers (AWD) was born.
Creating AWD has helped shine a light on the entertainment industry professionals that were not aware of us.
I called Angela Meryl and Dartenea "Dee" Bryant—two of my stunt driving peers to round out the team. Both Angela and Dee have over 20 years in the entertainment business as well-respected stuntwomen. In the past, we have shared stories of male drivers wearing wigs and the very poor practice of "paint downs." Paint downs are a painfully dated industry practice where white stunt performers have their skin painted dark to match the color of the actor's skin.
Thankfully, a combination of the age of Instagram, the growing prevalence of "cancel culture," and oblivious stunt performers posting pictures of them doubling non-white talent or wearing a wig has led to a decline in this practice. More actresses have also come to our rescue by posting a picture with their inappropriate stunt double to call out this offensive custom. The set crew have also become allies against this, having captured shots of the inappropriate stunt double in all their glory.
Creating AWD was a bit of a risk in a male-dominated industry. Sometimes I worried: How will it be received? Will there be a backlash? As women, we know when we show up to set that all eyes are on us. While this is mostly positive, there are those watching and waiting for us to screw up. We need to be completely on point and sharp with our every move. Proving ourselves is not an initiation phase but a daily endeavor.
We're not looking to shove men out of the driver's set, just give talented women drivers the opportunity to rev their engines at the starting line.
Being one of the very few women in a heavily male-dominated space also opens you up to double standards that practically call for "perfect" feminine behavior at every turn. I once had one of my male stunt driver buddies tell me, "A stunt coordinator asked me if you were a lesbian or just a frigid bitch?"
I told my friend, "Go back and tell him I am not a lesbian, and I am Canadian. Canadian women are pretty 'randy.' I just don't want to sleep with him."
AWD drivers have trained hard and continue to train. Just like an athlete, we are always at the track or 'Skidpad" (a flat circular pavement area to practice with stunt cars) honing in on our skills. Combined, our team has worked on over 500 commercials and 300 film and television shows. We have doubled A-List actresses such as Angela Basset, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, and Beyoncé to name a few.
Ad agencies, producers, and directors often request our skills and sparkling personalities when shooting a commercial.
Creating AWD has helped shine a light on the entertainment industry professionals that were not aware of us. In the past, some producers would ask the male drivers if they knew a female driver they could recommend. Nine times out of ten, a male driver would put one of the AWD women in for the job. It makes them look good that they have sent a talented driver that is also enjoyable to have on set. On rare occasions, there will be "that guy" that either wants to keep the money in the family and send his "significant other" to do the gig that he deems an "easy job." Usually what follows months down the road is that production will tell one of our members that they had a girl/woman driver on a job that was recommended by one of the guys and she was horrible.
When AWD finally launched in July 2020, eight months after the idea came about, we garnered a bit of entertainment trade coverage, and overnight, our Instagram messages started going crazy. Dee called me and said, "This is crazy, my phone is blowing up." We were getting calls from stunt coordinators, producers, directors, everyone, and anyone congratulating us. I had no idea it would be so well received by our peers and the people that have hired us. We love working with and for the guys that make up a great portion of this industry, and our group is very fortunate to work with stunt coordinators that appreciate the skills we have and the work we do.
We need to be completely on point and sharp with our every move. Proving ourselves is not an initiation phase but a daily endeavor.
Besides AWD being the best of the best, we want to groom and mentor up-and-coming female stunt drivers to take our place when we decide to park our cars and head to the beach for much-needed R&R. There is SO much involved with being a stunt driver and a little bit more with being a female stunt driver. Driving just as well as the guys and continually training is one thing, but set etiquette and how you go about getting a stunt-driving job is another.
AWD strives to be the best female drivers on film, television, and commercial sets. AWD looks forward to having more of the best female drivers behind the wheel in the future. We're not looking to shove men out of the driver's set, just give talented women drivers the opportunity to rev their engines at the starting line.
WRITTEN BYOlivia Summers