“My first time having a stunt double—and they painted her black," the 'Stargirl' actor wrote.

Lia Beck
Jul 24, 2020 @ 10:56 am
anjelika washington at tall girl premiere
Credit: Jean Baptiste Lacroix / Stringer, Getty Images

One of the stars of The CW’s Stargirl is speaking out about a problem in Hollywood that many people may not even realize exists. In an Instagram post on July 16th, Angelika Washington wrote about a stunt double wearing blackface on a project she worked on in 2017. (She does not name the project.) Washington’s account speaks to a few traumatizing issues Black actors can face on set. 

“Flashback to 2017. My 4th job as an actor, my first recurring guest star, and my first time having a stunt double—and they painted her black,” Washington wrote next to a photo of herself and the stunt double. The 22-year-old actor says she asked a producer why her stunt double wasn’t Black like her and was told, “[W]e couldn’t find a black stunt double in LA. Los Angeles doesn’t have many black stunt performers. But aren’t you happy to be working? You should be thankful to be here.” 

At that point, Washington convinced herself that she was wrong for feeling uncomfortable with the stunt actor being in blackface.

“I sat down in my chair, shut up, and tried to think positive thoughts. (Hence my smile in this photo) But really, I felt powerless, voiceless, and somehow ungrateful,” Washington writes.

Washington goes on to talk about how more non-white people working behind the camera in production could help situations like this from occurring. “There’s this oppressive thing that often happens when everyone and everything are ran by white people on sets (and in any industry) where they try to manipulate POC into just being GRATEFUL to be there,” she writes. “They often don’t check to see if we are comfortable with what they are asking of us, they often call us unprofessional or a diva for advocating for ourselves, and most times they get away with paying us wayyy less than our costars.” 

The stunt double didn’t end up being used, because Washington “kicked ass in my action scenes.” But, as she explains, “The whole time I kept telling myself ‘I have to be great. No, I have to be better than great. I have to be so amazing that they don’t need her. No one can know that I have a stunt double in blackface.’”

As you can see, there are a number of interconnected issues here that Black actors can face on set: Lower pay, a lack of Black staff working behind-the-scenes, being told they should be grateful, stunt actors in blackface, blaming themselves for problems, feeling like they have to fix problems themselves, feeling like they have to work twice as hard, and more.

In response to Washington’s Instagram post, a couple of other actors have spoken out about being in similar situations. As reported by Teen Vogue, Riverdale actor Hayley Law commented that she experienced the same thing working on a film.

“I was stunned,” Law wrote. “Hurt. I know many Black women in stunts and feel like the production didn’t care enough to take the time to find someone.” Grey’s Anatomy actor Jason George, who is on the board of the Screen Actors Guild, said he had the same experience. “Trying to help stunt performers of color in SAGAFTRA (I’m on the national board),” he wrote.” Please send me your contact info so that when the time comes, we can call on you to give a more recent testimonial than my old-ass movie.”

Washington continues her story in the comments of her post and vows to not stay silent when faced with racism at work ever again even though it is “exhausting” to have to keep speaking up. 

“We must value ourselves higher even if they call us a diva,” she concludes. “We must use our voice even if they call us loud. We must demand equality even if they call us ungrateful. The next generation depends on us.”