La Faye Baker: “They have no excuse"

La Faye Baker: “They have no excuse"

Building a decades-long Hollywood career from scratch is an ongoing hustle. For Black women pursuing traditionally male jobs in entertainment, scaling the gates of the movie business is doubly tricky, with the prejudices of race and gender working against them. Nevertheless, La Faye Baker, the first African American woman to serve as stunt coordinator for a major motion picture in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999), has made a name for herself as a trailblazer in stunt work, and she's still hustling.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF LA FAYE BAKER Building a decades-long Hollywood career from scratch is an ongoing hustle. For Black women pursuing traditionally male jobs in entertainment, scaling the gates of the movie business is doubly tricky, with the prejudices of race and gender working against them. Nevertheless, La Faye Baker, the first African American woman to serve as stunt coordinator for a major motion picture in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge (1999), has made a name for herself as a trailblazer in stunt work, and she's still hustling. Baker grew up as a child gymnast in South Central Los Angeles, a world away from the entertainment industry. However, she discovered the world of stunt work—performing stunts including fights, falls, and precision driving—through a chance encounter while working as a probation officer. Baker quickly took to the exhilarating work. She has been a stunt double for Black actresses throughout her esteemed career, including Angela Bassett, Regina King, Vanessa Bell Calloway, and Lynn Whitfield. "As a young girl, I didn't have anyone educating or teaching me anything about the industry, and I feel that if I had mentors, I would have done it differently. So it's important that I teach them how to navigate into this business without having any mishaps or any hiccups. It's important to educate these kids and let them know that these jobs exist." Some of the impressive films on Baker's resume: What's Love Got to Do With It (1993), Independence Day (1996), Set It Off (1996), Good Burger (1997), Training Day (2001), Mission Impossible III (2006), First Sunday (2008), and Green Lantern (2011). Her most recent coordinator jobs were arranging the stunts for the Netflix series Family Reunion and the fourth season of Insecure (2020). Today, Baker attributes her success to networking and relationship building, in addition to her dedication to the craft of stunt work. It's a skill she continues to practice today as she builds her reputation as a stunt coordinator. “To be a stunt person, it takes some time to establish yourself, where you can get to know who you are. Even with me being a stunt coordinator, I'm still trying to get established as a Black female stunt coordinator because the men [who make hiring decisions] always thought a woman can't do the job," Baker tells Suite Life SoCal. "I'm going to do everything the guys do, but for some reason, they always thought a woman can't do a job that a man could do." Hollywood doesn't have an excellent track record of gender inclusion in the stunt industry. For example, a 2017 film research study found that out of 7,303 movies released between 2000-2016, women made up less than 15% of stunt professionals. There is also an industry practice known as "paint downs," when a white stunt professional would be covered in dark makeup to double a Black or POC actor for an action sequence. Baker believes in the social media era; stunt coordinators should no longer be able to say that they just couldn't find a Black stunt professional, male or female."There's double standards in the industry, for sure. I think that [executives] often say they can't find Black women with a certain craft. If they want to find a Black [performer], they can reach out to some of the other Black ones; everyone knows somebody. If not, they can reach out to Instagram. They have no excuse at this time to say they can't find a Black woman for a specialized skill," Baker says. The Los Angeles native is now paying it forward and doing her part to introduce more young women to stunt work. Baker founded the Diamond in the Raw Foundation in 2015, where she has nurtured underserved youth and taught them about the film industry and other opportunities. She also hosted her first "Skin Champion Stunt Workshop" for local teen girls this summer. At a multi-week program sponsored by Gold Bond and supported by Mary J. Blige, the girls learned about the craft of stunt work and navigating the industry as a Black woman. The participants were also able to get experience being involved in stunts, which included doing wire work, learning fight scenes, and being passengers in stunt driving demonstrations. "Most of the girls were excited about the whole program overall, just being a stuntwoman and experiencing something that they never thought about. [It was] just the excitement of what they have never seen and what is a possibility." Baker is also amplifying female stunt performers through her recently-launched activewear line, Stuntwoman Xtraordinaire . Baker says that the line is designed to express strength and resilience for all women, no matter their occupation or age.As she takes on new opportunities, stunt work still has her heart, and she wants other young women to enter the industry and navigate it successfully. “As a young girl, I didn't have anyone educating or teaching me anything about the industry, and I feel that if I had mentors, I would have done it differently. So it's important that I teach them how to navigate into this business without having any mishaps or any hiccups. It's important to educate these kids and let them know that these jobs exist." Anyone interested in learning more about Baker can visit lafayebaker.com. For her nonprofit organization, Diamond in the Raw, visit diamondintheraw.org.

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