Opinions & Features September 22, 2021 at 03:00 pm

Why crash that killed stuntwoman Joi Harris on set of action movie Deadpool 2 was avoidable

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor September 22, 2021 at 03:00 pm

September 22, 2021 at 03:00 pm | Opinions & Features

Stuntwoman Joi Harris. Public Domain Image

“Today, we tragically lost a member of our crew while filming Deadpool. We’re heartbroken, shocked and devastated… but recognize nothing can come close to the grief and inexplicable pain her family and loved ones must feel in this moment. My heart pours out to them — along with each and every person she touched in this world.”

Those were the words of Deadpool 2 film’s star, Ryan Reynolds, after stuntwoman Joi Harris was killed in a motorcycle crash on the film’s Vancouver set in August 2017. “No words can express how I and the rest of the Deadpool 2 crew feel about this tragedy. Our thoughts are with her family, friends and loves ones in this difficult time,” Deadpool 2 director David Leitch said in a statement.

Harris, who was performing her first movie stunt, was killed when she was ejected from the motorcycle and crashed through the plate-glass window of a nearby building, Deadline reported. Harris was not wearing a helmet at the time because Domino, the character for whom Harris was performing the stunt, was not wearing one in the scene. Since then, there have been talks as to whether or not her death could have been prevented.

Her death did not only shock Hollywood but the sports world as well. Before joining the crew of the action movie Deadpool 2, the 40-year-old Brooklyn, New York native had billed herself as “the first licensed African American woman in U.S. history to actively compete in sanctioned motorcycle road racing events”. An advocate for women of color in the road racing game, she was known for her bravery in the sport, thanks to the speeds at which she operated her machine and the barriers she broke to get to a higher level.

“I am everything people never saw in the sport,” Harris, who was licensed to compete in both Championship Cup Series and American Sportbike Racing Association events, told Black Girls Ride magazine in 2015 while recounting her first amateur race in 2014. The race was at the time white and male-dominated. “I was alone for most of the day, scared and in tears. I had no one to talk to and I didn’t know what I needed.”

Harris nevertheless worked hard to get to the next level and by 2015, she had a lot of sponsors to support her in the sport. Ultimately, she made it to the pro-am level, where she would compete for the rest of her life. According to her profile, she began racing in earnest in 2016, competing in 14 races. Before her sad demise in August 2017, she competed at a Championship Cup Series race in New Jersey where she finished 11th.

At the time she joined the Deadpool 2 crew, she was not a trained stuntwoman but she was a trained professional rider and that could have contributed to her getting the role apart from diversity reasons. Sources said her preferred racing bike was a Kawasaki Ninja 300 but she was riding a Ducati 939 Hyperstrada at the time of the crash. Before the accident, which occurred on a Monday morning, eyewitnesses said Harris had completed several rehearsals of the stunt, which involved driving a motorcycle down two ramps across several stairs.

“She came out, went down the two flights of stairs, and it looked like she kind of hit the throttle because she picked up speed,” Nathan Kramchynski told Metro News. “She was going full throttle,” he added. Harris narrowly missed hitting two pedestrians when she lost control of the bike. She was reportedly treated by ambulance personnel but police said she died at the scene. Production was halted immediately after the crash.

Emerson Wong, another stuntman on the Deadpool 2 set, told ET Canada that Harris was a last-minute replacement for another stuntwoman who was not available for the stunt on the day required due to a scheduling conflict. “She was kind of brought in as a last-minute backup,” said Wong of Harris. “She is a professional motorcycle rider in the racing world, but because it was her first stunt job, perhaps it could’ve been because she was a bit nervous.”

To date, many have been asking the following questions: Was she really ready for the role or did she fumble because it was her first time on set? Why didn’t she leap off the bike when she lost control to avoid a more serious crash?

Amid these concerns, the producers of Deadpool 2 were slapped with a $289,562 penalty for failing to provide a safe workplace for Harris. The fine was imposed on TCF Vancouver Productions LTD by WorkSafeBC, the Canadian equivalent of OSHA, Deadline reported in 2020.

“The primary purpose of an administrative penalty is to motivate the employer receiving the penalty — and other employers — to comply with occupational health and safety requirements and to keep their workplaces safe,” the agency said. Investigations by WorkSafeBC identified five violations of the Workers Compensation Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation:
• Failure to ensure the health and safety of all workers by failing to identify the hazards and assess and control the risks of the work activity and failing to provide adequate supervision.
• Failure to ensure that the stunt performer complied with the Regulation by wearing safety headgear while operating the motorcycle.
• Failure to ensure the health and safety of the stunt performer by failing to provide adequate supervision with respect to this work activity.
• Failure to provide the stunt performer with a new worker orientation.
• Instructing the stunt performer not to wear safety headgear while operating the motorcycle.

It also emerged at the time of the accident that crew members on the set considered her death to have been preventable. “She was improving, but I was watching her and, oh my God, I thought, ‘It’s just a matter of time before she crashes into a wall or runs somebody over,” a source, who had been training Harris to perform the stunt, told The Hollywood Reporter. It appeared that members of the stunt staff had spoken to producers about their safety concerns. Harris had endured two previous crashes during the practice stunts.

Producers did not take the worries of the stunt team seriously, and had insisted that the stunt be performed by an African-American woman in order to more closely resemble the character Domino, played by actress Zazie Beetz, reports said.

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