Most of you have probably never heard of 77-year-old Terry Leonard. But with nearly 150 credits to his name, chances are you’ve seen him on screen. Well, maybe not his face. Considering the large majority of his 150 credits are for stunt work, you’ve most likely seen the high-speed car he was driving; or as the physical body on screen when the hero does something spectacular. Hell, he’s the guy playing Indiana Jones in the picture above.
But the reason I bring up Mr Leonard is that he is one of the lucky ones that has had his incredible work recognised. He won the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003’s Taurus World Stunt Awards; an annual ceremony that is pretty much the only notable recognition stunt performers receive in America.
But for some reason the pinnacle of cinematic acknowledgement, the Academy Awards, have kept the idea of introducing an award for stunt work at arm’s length. There have been various reasons given for this over the years; ranging from the belief there are already too many Oscar awards, to the idea that stunt work isn’t an “award worthy” profession.
Quite frankly, the Academy are dead wrong. When entire movies are defined or remembered by a specific action scene, it is utterly disingenuous to then say this kind of work is not suitable to be recognised by the Academy. Remember 2017’s Atomic Blonde? Regardless of whether or not you liked it, there’s no question that film is defined by the brutal one-take hallway scene in the third act. The man who put such a breathtaking scene together is Sam Hargrave, the film’s Stunt Coordinator. But despite his incredible work still being talked about a year later, there is no public award to recognise his talent.
And yet the Academy still continue to shit upon the stunt community with the recent announcement that they are planning to introduce a new category “for outstanding achievement in popular film.” Interestingly, the Academy failed to mention how qualifying for such a category would be determined, instead stating that eligibility requirements would be revealed at a later date. Seems rather strange to be prepared to announce a new category, but not how you can qualify for it.
With the Academy desperate to reverse falling TV ratings, it’s understandable why they may have wanted to introduce an award for the masses (though they may be vastly overestimating how many people are going to stick around for a three hour ceremony just to watch one award!) Honestly, at this point I wouldn’t be surprised if the new award was announced just to make sure Black Panther won something memorable, and in turn avoid another #OscarsSoWhite disaster.
Regardless of why the Academy decided upon this new category, it is once again a reminder of how frivolously the stunt community has been treated. Quite frankly it’s insulting. These are men and women who literally put their lives on the line for our entertainment. With the possible exception of riggers and other construction workers, almost no other aspect of Hollywood does such dangerous work. And yet we’re happy to shower writers, actors, directors, musicians, production artists, makeup teams, sound designers and visual effects companies with more awards than they could probably count.
And what makes it even worse is that there are members of this overlooked community that have died and suffered long-term disabilities, all in the name of our entertainment. You only have to look at this list to see that even films as recent as Deadpool 2 have resulted in tragic losses of life. To say that these people aren’t worthy of Hollywood’s top award is both mind-boggling and contemptible.
This debate will probably continue for a while longer, but there is some hope on the horizon. The Screen Actors Guild have recognised the achievements of both movie and TV stunt work as far back as 2007. And in 2016, stunt workers held a protest outside the Beverly Hills offices of the Academy, helping to bring much needed attention to their issue. After nearly a century of death-defying work, perhaps this injustice will be corrected sooner rather than later.