Stuntwoman Deven MacNair didn’t set out to become Hollywood’s foremost expert in rape choreography. When she arrived in Hollywood following a career as a professional wrestler and second generation “Glow” Girl, she initially wanted to do Buster Keaton-esque physical comedy or maybe a Disney movie, she revealed in last year’s harrowing LA Weekly piece about the growing subdivision of rape choreography in Hollywood. But rape is increasingly in demand on TV and in the movies, and that means MacNair will likely be on the job.
“I feel I’m doing a service,” MacNair said in a phone interview with /Film. “But yeah, they’re not my favorite.”
Rape choreography, sometimes called “intimacy choreography,” is just like it sounds: It’s the part in production when the crew has to coordinate how they’re going to film a sexual assault scene. The process is not unlike filming a fight scene — the stunt coordinators block the actors, block the camera, and practice. But unlike a fight scene, choreographing rape can take more than just a physical toll, it can take an emotional toll as well. And there’s no safeguards in place for that.
“The lighting guy is there to light the set and nothing else… The make-up people are there to put the make-up on, put the blood in the right place. There’s no one checking in with the actress, it’s no one’s job besides stunt coordinators and sometimes the first AD,” MacNair said. Her official job title doesn’t have the word “rape” or “intimacy” in it because she — like the stunt industry — fell into the job by circumstance.
“If they found the scene to be violent enough they would have a stunt choreographer there to work on the fight choreography of the rape scene,” MacNair said. “And that’s how I got involved.”
But not all rape is violent, MacNair argued. And in the wake of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, Hollywood is finally starting to realize the same. HBO was the first major cable network to require an “intimacy coordinator” on set to serve as a mediator among actors, directors, producers, and crew. Other networks and studios will likely (hopefully) follow suit. But the stunt industry still has a long way to go to not only best represent the vulnerable actresses but the female stunt performers who are working closely with them. MacNair is at the forefront of helping to enact that change, working in rape choreography as well as advocating for greater female representation in the stunt community with her sex-discrimination lawsuit against wigging, a common Hollywood practice in which stuntmen put on wigs and dresses to double for actresses — shutting stuntwomen out of potential jobs. It was a polarizing lawsuit that resulted in MacNair becoming temporarily blacklisted from the stunt industry.
I spoke with MacNair about specializing in rape choreography, her advocacy for female stunt performers, and how — after decades — the stunt industry is finally beginning to see some change.
I remember reading the LA Weekly piece and being stunned to learn about the existence of rape choreography. But then I realized it should be considered an essential part of productions.
Yeah, it’s starting to be.
Do you know if rape choreographers have been a part of productions for a while, or are they a fairly new addition?
God, you know, I realize that we should be the experts on this but I think this is such a new topic. I would say at best, and this is how I got into it, if they found the scene to be violent enough they would have a stunt choreographer there to work on the fight choreography of the rape scene. And that’s how I got involved. And what’s interesting is, and this is just a horrible true fact, is rape isn’t always violent. Sometimes rape isn’t violent, people can’t get away and they’re just trying to self-preserve and go along with an intimate moment to survive. But that’s how molestation [happens]. It’s really sick to talk about, but sometimes it’s men or women in relationships who know the person will get violent if they don’t give them want they want. That is rape. And it’s not always violent. People have forgotten because it’s still a really, really intimate moment and I think we’re finally realizing that.
How did you get to specializing in rape scenes?
I didn’t set out for it, that’s for damn sure. I believe there’s very few female stunt coordinators out there, still to this day, and in my career I’ve never worked for one. I’ve only 100% worked for male stunt coordinators. And when there’s a rape in the scene, you can go one of two ways: you can hire the male stunt coordinator who’s a 6’4” linebacker or if you know of a female stunt coordinator that would help make the actress a little more comfortable [especially] if they’re half-naked or naked.
So producers asked me to do one, next thing you know you do more. And I did one this summer with actually a 14-year-old girl who got sexually assaulted. So we had to coordinate and make sure everyone was comfortable including the parents, the studio teacher, myself, the director, and just mentally prepare.
So is there still no official designation for rape choreographer, it’s just whatever female stunt member is on set?
No there’s no mandate. The only mandate is HBO has mandated it. And it protects everyone, it protects the actress. Because people — why would they understand it? The lighting guy is there to light the set and nothing else. The producer is there to make sure the budget works and nothing else. The make-up people are there to put the make-up on, put the blood in the right place. There’s no one checking in with the actress, it’s no one’s job besides stunt coordinators and sometimes the first AD that are there to make sure the actors are safe.
Have you found that since the #MeToo movement began, the way that productions approach rape has changed?
Not only rape, but everything. Hiring more females for the protection of [actresses]. For instance, recently a stunt coordinator invited me to work to help an actress get into her harness. Sometimes actresses will do a scene where they get levitated, let’s say, 10 feet in the air. We make sure we do it safely, but meanwhile we got to get them into the harness, and that’s usually all but their underwear and bra on and we’re securing them into a harness over their clothes. Sometimes there’s no stuntwoman on set, it’s all guys rigging, the stunt coordinator who’s a male, and next thing you know someone’s got to help this actress into her vest. And for liability alone it’s just easier now that everyone’s aware of this, is to have a stuntwoman on set. And before that, that hadn’t happened.
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