Meet Damita Jane Howard, Hollywood’s Badass Go-To Stunt Woman For Black Actresses

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Photo by Robin Henson

Damita Jane Howard makes a living taking hit after hit.  She’s been thrown down flights of stairs, set on fire, and kicked out of moving cars.  She is a stuntwoman.

The Compton California native, who has become sought after stunt double in Hollywood for black actresses, first set her sights on becoming a history teacher after earning a graduate degree in U.S. History and Historic preservation from Florida A&M and Georgia State Universities.  But as she moonlighted as a competitor on a roller derby team, she got a call that changed the coarse of her career.

We caught up with Howard to find out how she made her career change and what it’s like to do her job.

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How did you begin your career as a stuntwoman?

In 2008 I was skating on a nationally-ranked roller derby team – as
close to pro as roller derby got back then — when Drew Barrymore
started producing her derby film Whip It! They needed someone to do
the skating for rapper/actress EVE who was playing Rosa Sparks in the
film. There wasn’t a Black stuntwoman in Hollywood who had those kinds
of skills, so they had to find a real rollergirl. The production
contacted the L.A. Derby Dolls to try to find a rollergirl who could
double Eve.  At the time there weren’t many Black women playing derby
and someone suggested that they contact the Atlanta league.  Kasey
Bomber sent an email to Blackie Braless and that was that.

I have always been athletic and had the strength it took to do 12 plus
hours of filming every day and make it look easy. As a bonus, the work
was a ton of fun. From the very beginning of the six-week filming
stint I was hooked on the adrenaline and crazy skills it took to be
flung around a track on camera. The moment filming ended I started
training to be a stuntwoman.

What films have you been in?  Who have you been a stunt double for?

The film industry in the Atlanta area has been booming, and I have
been able to work on quite a few films. Some of the highlights have
been the Hunger Games Mockingjay films, Captain America: Civil War,
Furious 7, Selma, Zombieland, Birth of a Nation, Bessie, Keanu,
Cell,Goosebumps, Boo! A Madea Halloween, and The Nice Guys. There are
a few movies I have done that have not yet come out, including All
Eyez on Me, Guardians of the Galaxy II, and Girls Trip.

I have also done quite a bit of television, including Atlanta,
Underground, American Horror Story, Sleepy Hollow, Greenleaf, NCIS New
Orleans, The Haves and Have Nots, If Loving You is Wrong, Zoo, The
Vampire Diaries, The Originals and a recurring role as Michonne’s
stunt double on The Walking Dead. Some of the actresses I’ve doubled
for have been Angela Bassett, Danai Guirira, Kiki Palmer, Victoria
Rowell, Sharon
Leal, Aja Naomi King, Sanaa Lathan, Crystal Fox, EVE, Tiffany Haddish,
Nadine Ellis, Erica Ash, Cynthia Addai Robinson, Daneen Tyler, and
Tika Sumpter

michonneWe always hear quite a bit about what it’s like to be an actress, but
what is it like being a stunt woman?

Amazing!  I get up every day and get to do what I love.  It’s like
being a kid all over again. A typical day when I’m not on set is
like…. I drop my daughter off at school and then I literally go
outside and “play”.  Playtime for me includes things like skating,
martial arts training, practicing fight choreography, swimming,
horseback riding, and scuba diving. Listing it all out like that makes
it sound like adult summer camp. My work is my fun.

What is the most daring or the craziest thing you’ve had to do on screen?

My reputation in this industry is that I’m tough as nails and can hit
the ground really hard.  I’m the stuntwoman they know that can take
hit after hit, something I’m sure stems from my background in roller
derby.  I do a lot of fighting on screen, like getting thrown down
stairs, kicked out of moving cars, hurled through panes of glass,
blown through walls, and all sorts of fun stuff. I have been set on
fire and attacked by a wall of glass fish tanks. Getting killed – over
and over — is all in a day’s work for me.

headshot16What’s next for you?

More stunts, definitely lots and lots more stunts. I love what I do
and am thrilled to keep doing it.  I’m constantly training to
strengthen skills that I already have and I’m always working on
acquiring new skill sets that will allow me to expand the kinds of
stunts that I’m regularly called for.

Beginning in 2017 I am also expanding my roles, and you’re going to
start seeing more of me acting.  I filmed my first few gigs this year,
and I’m excited to see myself speaking on the big screen, not just
taking punches.

My work has also expanded behind the camera, and I am working on a
screen play involving Black history in the U.S.  Before I even thought
about working in the entertainment industry I had earned a couple
graduate degrees in history. Ten years ago, if you had asked me what I
would be doing now I would have told you that I was going to be a
professor of history.  I wanted to teach and to share some of the
lesser known stories of our ancestors.  My love of history hasn’t
dwindled even a tiny bit, so you can expect to find me on the other
side of the camera shortly. I will definitely keep telling stories,
and now I am going to be doing it on both sides of the screen.

1 Comment
  1. Awesome. It’s great to hear about the “lesser knowns, but still seen” people in the film industry, especially those that take a “hit” or “smack” for the stars. And it’s really motivational to here about the women. I hope that she can come to my high school and speak to my students on Career Day.

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