Racer and stuntwoman SJ Harris was killed yesterday morning while performing a stunt for the film Deadpool 2 in Vancouver, BC. Harris’s website says she got her race licence in 2013 and began racing in 2014, and describes her as the first African-American woman to compete in an AMA-sanctioned event. The Vancouver Sun reports this was Harris’s first job as a stunt person.

According to a friend of MO who was also working on the film, Harris was having no problems in rehearsals even if she didn’t seem to be as completely confident as a veteran stunt person might have been. During filming, however, at no more than 15 mph, she lost control and suffered fatal injuries.

Would a helmet have saved her life? Ahh, not sure, but the whole tragic incident brings up a serious topic: Does Hollywood encourage irresponsible riding by portraying helmetless riders engaged in all manner of riding well beyond “risky”? Or does everyone understand “it’s only a movie”?

Mission Impossible 2, with Tom Cruise racing helmetless through canyons at speed, was hard for some of us to watch – even harder than most TC films.


How does the stunt community feel about riding without helmets? Our stunt person would only speak on condition of anonymity:

Of course you don’t like to do it, but we’re at the control of the writer of the film. He’s the captain and we’re the cargo, basically. If Tom Cruise runs out of a building with the bad guys five seconds behind him, it’s just not plausible that he’s going to take time to strap on a helmet before he takes off on the motorcycle. As a stunt performer, it’s our job to take the written word and make it happen.

What happened to SJ was a tragedy, but also kind of a fluke. It could also be the thing that shines a light on a situation that’s becoming unworkable at some level, as audience’s excitement thresholds keep being raised.

We like our motorcycle chase scenes as much as anybody, but not so much that we want to see anyone get killed as a result of riding without a helmet, or even more to the point, giving inexperienced motorcyclists the idea that they’re as impervious to physics as the movies sometimes seem to imply. Maybe scripts could be easily rewritten to give the chasee an extra 20 seconds to put on a helmet while the bad guys get their parking validated? Maybe something?

In any case, MO’s sincere condolences go out to the family and friends of SJ Harris. If her death results in the end of helmetless riding in movies, at least that would be one positive thing.