First Black woman stunt coordinator promotes diversity

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By Shirley Hawkins

Contributing Writer

La Faye Baker is a trailblazer. The veteran stunt coordinator and former stunt performer has worked on dozens of television and movie sets in Hollywood for more than 25 years.

During that time, she realized that African Americans and other minorities in Hollywood were seldom acknowledged for their outstanding work.

A former athlete, Baker decided to do something about it. Realizing that the industry was in need of more diversity, she founded the Diamond in the Raw Foundation in 2008 to honor unsung colleagues in Hollywood. Her other goal was to expose underserved African-American teens to various positions in the entertainment industry.

Each year, Baker and her team hosts the annual Action Icon Stuntwoman Awards Luncheon and Conference, which honors the achievements of stuntwomen, actresses and sports enthusiasts in the entertainment industry who risk their lives to create some of the most memorable and breathtaking action scenes in film, television and commercials.

This year the 11th annual awards show, which benefits the Diamond in the Raw Foundation, will be held at the Sheraton Universal Hotel Oct. 16.

“Each year we honor action oriented females, A-listers and extreme sport enthusiasts,” Baker said.

Baker is widely recognized in the industry as the first female African-American stunt coordinator in Hollywood. The job entails ensuring that safety protocols for stunt performers are followed on the sets of movies and TV shows. She has been showered with numerous awards by the industry for her work.

“Years ago, I didn’t even know what a stunt performer was,” said Baker, who was working as a probation officer when fellow officer and stuntman Robby Robinson suggested that she explore the stunt business.

Show business was not new to Baker. At the age of 12 she entered the Guinness Book of World Records record for twirling 58 hula hoops on national television.

“I represented the Wham-o Company and hula hooped on several television shows,” she recalled.

Robinson introduced her to a stunt women’s organization.

“He saw that I was athletically inclined. I was curious, so I decided to try stunt work,” she said.

Since then, Baker has received 135 movie credits for stunts that include jumping off the roof of tall buildings in death-defying free falls, participating in bloody fight sequences and speeding through the streets in action-packed car chases.

She has doubled for some of the most recognized Black actresses in Hollywood, including Halle Berry, Angela Bassett, Regina King, Alfre Woodard, Keesha Sharp, Loretta Devine, Lynn Whitfield and many others.

Baker broke into the rarified ranks of stunt coordination when she received a call from the production company that was about to film “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.” She was chosen to serve as the stunt coordinator for the big-budgeted, award-winning HBO film.

“Halle Berry wanted to see more women in key positions on the production,” Baker said.

After being hired, Baker was catapulted into the history books as the first African American stunt woman to coordinate a big budget project in Hollywood.

Being a stunt coordinator is no easy task, she said. The job entails that each death-defying feat is completed safely. Baker was struck by the importance of being a stunt coordinator several years ago when she attempted to execute a feat that went horribly wrong.

“I was working on a music video and I was supposed to perform a motorcycle jump,” she said. “I fell off the bike and broke my jaw.

“I was rushed to the hospital and had to undergo 10 hours of reconstructive surgery,” she said. “Doctors said they were amazed by how quickly my body healed.”

Baker credited her speedy recovery to prayer, regularly ingesting herbs and acupuncture.

“To this day, I still have screws on each side of my jaw and a plate in my chin,” she added.

Baker said that the hazards of performing stunt work remains a constant threat, citing her colleague Sonja Davis, an African-American stunt performer who was killed executing a stunt in 1994.

“Stunts can be extremely dangerous,” she said. “I meditate and pray before coordinating any stunt. It requires a lot of thinking and concentration.

Baker’s other passion is mentoring at-risk, foster and low-income teen girls through her nonprofit organization Diamond in the Raw. Aware that many teen girls are in need of role models and guidance, Baker helps to transform the lives of the teens after school and during the summer months by holding workshops like Concepts in a Box Leadership and Film Boot Camp, Precious Stone Mentorship Workshop, DiamondsN2Code: Arts and Computer Science Program and You’re Not Listening To What I Have to Say!

The foundation also exposes youths to careers in science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics professions and entertainment industry careers, specifically production and other behind the scenes occupations.

Baker is currently hosting a “Power in the Voice” bootcamp, an eight-week virtual workshop for teen girls 12 to 16 that teaches them how to develop and record a podcast.

“The organization is devoted to teaching them life skills through personal development such as how to network and how to sharpen their communication skills,” she said. “We give them the opportunity to shine like diamonds. We teach them to dream big.

“We also teach them how to pitch a story idea and create a story from script to screen. We select the best pitch then we make a movie. Upon completion, we premiere their film at the Action Icon award show.”

Singer Mary J. Blige, who is no stranger to doing her own stunts on the silver screen, recently partnered with Gold Bond, the skin care company, to pay homage to Baker and other stunt women of color with the Skin Champions Stunt Workshop program geared toward helping more girls of color pursue their dreams in the stunt industry.

Baker hasn’t stopped there. She is working on several projects, including a clothing line called Stuntwoman Extraordinaire to empower women and a book called The Stuntwomen’s Journal which outlines for young women how to navigate the historically male-dominated stunt industry.

For more information, contact www.diamondintheraw.org.

Shirley Hawkins is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at metropressnews@gmail.com.

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