91st Oscars title card.

The Oscars Need a Category For Stunts

This life and death industry deserves recognition
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Though the big show is next weekend, this weekend will see two consecutive nights of celebration at the Creative Arts Emmys, which honor the lesser known categories and hardworking craftspeople of the television industry. It’s a big deal for these artists, and the sheer amount of awards handed out by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences puts the measly two dozen or so awards that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences distributes to shame. Part of this is a matter of volume. There are simply more television programs than movies, are many more people working in television than in film. But the Emmys still beat the Oscars in how thoroughly they chose to honor people behind the scenes, and one category above all others that the Emmys celebrate should have a place on the Oscar stage: Stunts.

The Oscars is a great night for movies, not just because audiences around the world tune in to see their favorite celebrities get weepy over a bald, gold guy; but because it represents the only time that people like sound editors, costume designers and screenwriters really get a moment in the big spotlight. It highlights that movies aren’t just about the actors and directors; they’re about hundreds of skilled artists coming together in the ultimate collaborative art form. The Oscars is a huge night for all the people who make movies…except for the men and women who literally risk their lives to entertain us.

Stunts encompasses a lot of work: fight choreography, car stunts, explosives, fire and water and more. Stunts are integral to the movies we love and celebrate. From Avengers to the The Fast and The Furious to The Matrix to Star Wars, the iconic films that have defined and dominated our culture wouldn’t exist without the hard work of stunt people. Fight choreography and stunts are just as much an art form as costume design. Without the car chases and explosions, sound mixers would have much less to work on. With out a real human jumping off something, visual effects artist would have no starting point. So why aren’t these people honored at Hollywood’s biggest party?

It’s not just that stunts are important to movies – of the top twenty highest grossing movies of all time, sixteen are live action and you bet they all involved hard and dangerous work by stunt people. It’s that stunt people put themselves at incredible risk doing their jobs. In recent years, stunt performers have been killed on the sets of blockbusters like Expendables 2 and Deadpool. 2 As far as I know, no editors have been killed in the course of their work on their films.

Let’s just look at some of the big films this years: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is about stunt people and wouldn’t be a film without stunt and fight work. Avengers: Endgame would be about ten minutes long without stunts, and even just the big moments in the trailer for The Rise of Skywalker involved some hardworking fight choreographers. Stunt performers and coordinators make films great and keep actors and crew safe when they do amazing things like this.

They should get some thanks.

It’s not just stunts where the Motion Picture Academy lags behind it’s television sibling. The Emmys have discrete awards for hair versus make-up and make up gets divided into prosthetic and non-prosthetic. They acknowledge casting, choreography and lighting design and distinguish between period and contemporary costumes. It’s not as if the Oscars are incapable of making these distinctions – the sound Oscar is now broken up into Sound Mixing and Sound Editing, and we have several small Oscars for shorts and animated films. At this point, adding or trimming awards from the televised ceremony won’t make a difference as to who watches – either you’re all in on the Oscars or you’re not. So why not honor the stunt people?

Awards aren’t just about celebrating the best in an industry, they’re about giving whole groups of people acknowledgement, even just once a year, for the amazing work they do. Movies wouldn’t exist without stunt people, and they deserve all the praise and statuettes Hollywood can spare. In the meantime, I hope they know that even if we aren’t voting members of the academy, the audience sees them and we are grateful for the amazing work they do.

(Featured Image: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences)

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Jessica Mason
Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.