Ever thought of becoming a stuntwoman? Veteran encourages young women to consider non-traditional careers in Hollywood
By Gina Hall
“Lord, I want to do something in entertainment.”
Those were the words LaFaye Baker wrote in her Bible. She didn’t know how she was going to pursue a career in the industry; she just knew the desire was there — and that she had a unique set of skills.
As a gymnast in her youth, she toured with toy company Wham-O after earning the Guinness world record for twirling the most Hula Hoops at one time.
Baker loved using her physical prowess to perform. She just didn’t know how to parlay her talents into employment. So she put her dream on hold to work as a probation officer in Los Angeles.
But since you can’t have a circle of friends in L.A. without a few entertainment industry pals, Baker connected with a trainer who taught stunting for film and television.
Intrigued, Baker dedicated her down time to learning car work, fire work, stunt falls, weaponry and fighting techniques. This was in 1989, a time when the stunt community was still small and getting gigs required a lot of hustling. But Baker had an angle.
“I was one of the few black women available in the business at the time,” Baker recalled.
Since then, Baker has garnered more than 135 credits as a stunt performer. She’s doubled for Angela Bassett, Alfre Woodard, Regina Hall and Regina King. And she was the first African-American woman to become a stunt coordinator on a large-budget Hollywood project, “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” starring Halle Berry.
But Baker hasn’t forgotten her roots. Still a probation officer, Baker feels compelled to help at-risk teens find positive role models, and that’s when she had an idea.
Baker dedicates herself to several programs that help young women discover careers in the entertainment business. She started a nonprofit, Diamond in the RAW, to “use creativity and the arts to inspire positive change and encourage those who are in doubt to find their own self-worth and believe in unlimited possibilities.”
“Some people are really, really talented. But for many it’s all about relationships,” she tells the young women who seek her out for advice about how to get a job in entertainment business. “You can do this, too. The guys are just bringing their best friends in.”
Baker encourages young women who might be interested in stunt work to also look further down the career path into follow-up jobs once their knees or backs give out, as can happen in her line of work. Many women don’t pursue the logical next steps after stunt work, which include stunt coordination or second-unit directing, because they haven’t picked up the necessary skills.
“Sometimes you have to sell yourself as a stunt coordinator by being up to date on the latest technology,” said Baker, who holds seminars for women who want to learn more about motion capture, handling weapons and on-set safety.
She also holds a stuntwomen’s awards ceremony to honor what she sees as an under-recognized position in the entertainment industry.
“Most actors don’t want anyone to know they have doubles,” Baker said of Hollywood’s reluctance to let stunt workers shine.
Baker is currently working on a documentary about African-American stuntwomen and is hoping that her message will lead to the success of others in the space.
So it turns out the prayer Baker wrote in her Bible was answered. She’s done something quite remarkable in entertainment after all.