Sexual Assault Victims Aren’t the Only Ones Hollywood’s Been Trying to Keep Quiet

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For the past few months, Hollywood has been reeling as the general public learned about the extent of the sexual harassment and abuse within the industry. Details have come to light that can only be described as horrific, and we’re left to wonder: How was this able to continue for so long? How did we not know that Harvey Weinstein had been sexually abusing women for decades and putting their careers in jeopardy if they rebuffed his advances? How did we not see evidence of deplorable behavior from Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., James Toback, Russell Simmons, and all the rest — until a few brave people finally came forward?

Fortunately, Hollywood’s sex abuse secret is finally — finally — coming to light.

But that’s not the only secret the entertainment industry has been sweeping under the rug.

David Holmes is a former British stunt actor and performer. He worked as Daniel Radcliffe’s stunt double on the sets of the first six Harry Potter films.

He was supposed to be in all eight films. But in January of 2009, he suffered an injury that made his further involvement with the franchise impossible. Holmes was rehearsing a flying scene that also included an explosion.  

He was hooked into a flying harness, but something went terribly wrong. When the explosion occurred, the 25-year-old was sent plummeting to the ground. He was permanently paralyzed.

Olivia Jackson was a stuntwoman who was hired to perform on the set of Resident Evil: The Final Chapter.

But, again, something went wrong. While performing a motorcycle stunt in Johannesburg, South Africa, Jackson crashed into a camera arm.

She suffered serious facial injuries, a punctured lung, and a permanently dislocated shoulder. She also had to have her left arm amputated. Jackson spent months in an induced coma after the accident.

Holmes and Jackson suffered life-changing injuries but escaped with their lives. Other stunt people haven’t been as lucky.  

In August of 2017, Joi “SJ” Harris was performing a motorcycle stunt for the Deadpool sequel when she was accidentally thrown through a glass window. Harris died on set.

Back in 2014, Sarah Jones — the second camera assistant on the film Midnight Rider — was killed after being struck by a freight train while filming in Georgia.

Jones and several other crew members were filming a dream sequence that took place on a train trestle. Suddenly, a train traveling at 58 mph appeared around the bend. Jones and her fellow crewmembers had only seconds to escape from the oncoming train. Sadly, Jones was struck and killed. The production company had not secured permission to film on the railroad.

Bernecker died on July 12, 2017, after plunging headfirst from a balcony on the set of The Walking Dead. He had nearly 100 stunt credits under his belt. He was Susan Bernecker’s only son.

In an interview with Deadline, Bernecker said that she often overheard her son and his friends talking about unsafe conditions in the film and television industry. She says that her son John refused to take jobs that he felt were unsafe. “He walked away from two jobs,” she said. “He’d say ‘Mom, they won’t put the money in the budget to protect my guys.’ And he walked away. He said, ‘If you can’t protect my people, I’m not going to do it.'”

“If you take out the word ‘sex’ and put in ‘safety,’ it’s the same thing,” Bernecker said. “This is parallel in my mind. There are the same pressures and the same risks. People are afraid to speak out because they’re afraid they’ll never work again or that they’ll be looked down upon.” Things are doubly tricky for female stunt workers…

“Stunt women have told me about being put in sexual harassment positions to get a job,” she said. “I had two girls tell me about that in the last year.” We already know that no one should have to arrive at their job and worry about whether they’re going to be sexually harassed by their boss. It goes without saying that they also shouldn’t have to worry about whether they’re going to live through the end of their workday.

On January 5, 2018, The Walking Dead‘s production company was fined for failing to protect employees from fall hazards.

The total fine was for $12,675. That’s the maximum fine allowed for a violation of federal safety rules. That hasn’t changed since 1991. Susan Bernecker doesn’t see how a fine for $13,000 is going to make any difference at all. “I think it’s ridiculous,” she said. “I mean, they spend that much on food for the crew for two days.” In many cases, the fines OSHA charges are dramatically reduced when the production companies push back.

“I’m going to try to change things. […] Somebody’s got to get the ball rolling,” she said. “So I guess I was picked.” Susan started a website in her son’s honor to share more about the way John lived his life. She found out after his death that John had anonymously paid for a young girl at his gym to go to regional gymnastics finals.  

“He paid for the flight, the fees, and everything, but he said that John said ‘don’t tell them where it came from.’ He helped everyone along the way. He gave it his all every day. But he never bragged. He was humble. All these things he did for people,” Susan said about John.

For too long, the majority of us have simply gone to movies and watched TV shows with not much thought to what happens on set. The #MeToo movement changed all that. Now it’s time to get serious about safety for all cast and crewmembers, too.