Jumping through windows and drifting in cars is all in a day’s work for this former champion gymnast.

Advertisement
Sadiqua Bynum
Credit: Courtesy Sadiqua Bynum

At 27, Sadiqua Bynum may be one of Hollywood's youngest stuntwomen, but with credits in major blockbusters like Black Panther and The Suicide Squad, she's already made a name for herself, doubling onscreen for stars like Regina King, Angela Bassett, and Gabrielle Union. And working in entertainment was only this badass woman's backup plan. First came gymnastics. 

"It's amazing that gymnastics brought me to this space," the former nationally ranked UCLA gymnast and three-time All-American on floor exercises says. "It helps with the skill building, air awareness, and athletics of stunt work." Bynum is an expert when it comes to clocking flips and twists, but on set she doesn't limit herself to acrobatics. Her scenes run the gamut from horse and motorcycle riding to choreographed fights, and she has even taken acting lessons to further improve her performance. "There are so many avenues you can go with stunt work," she says. "But gymnastics is definitely my home base." 

Sadiqua Bynum
Credit: Courtesy Sadiqua Bynum

Despite working with Hollywood royalty, Bynum says her job is far from glamorous. In fact, it can be downright dangerous and often involves taking risks that push her to the limit both mentally and physically. But for a daredevil like her, that's what keeps it interesting.

"Sometimes there's glitz, and sometimes there are bruises and scrapes and cuts," she says. "You're throwing yourself on the ground and fighting with weapons, but you're looking beautiful and powerful at the same time." One of her most challenging jobs? Sitting still for a buzz cut. She and her fellow Black Panther stuntwomen — who took home the 2019 Screen Actors Guild award for best stunt ensemble — had to shave their heads to portray Wakanda's Dora Milaje warrior squad. "I did not want to be completely bald," says Bynum, who initially turned down the project before deciding that it was the opportunity of a lifetime. "But at the end of the day, I'm so thankful that I did it." 

Sadiqua Bynum
Credit: Courtesy Sadiqua Bynum

The field of stunt work, which is predominantly male and white, has long masked its lack of diversity with practices such as "paint-downs," or darkening a white stunt person's skin to double a Black actor, and "wigging," when a man wears a wig while performing an actress's stunts. SAG-AFTRA launched a task force to investigate and address this issue in 2020, but as a Black woman, Bynum still feels double the pressure to overcome obstacles in casting. But she says the industry's rampant racism and sexism only fuel her to work harder. "That's what drives me to be who I am in my work," she says. "It's important for Black women to show our own power. We constantly have to make sure we're doing the best we can so that we're not pushed to the wayside, because then people will say, 'Oh, sorry, we couldn't find anyone!' No, you just didn't look." 

Next up, Bynum will appear as King's stunt double in the Jay-Z-produced Black Western The Harder They Fall, which hits Netflix on November 3. The film marks their second collaboration, their first project together being the 2019 HBO drama Watchmen. Bynum considers the experience doing stunts for the actress and director in the acclaimed limited series her most memorable to date.

"For Watchmen, there was some running and jumping and sprinting and [King] is so freaking athletic," she says. "Working with someone like that is amazing. She has allowed me the space and has the confidence in me to know that whatever I do is going to be great and amazing for her, and I can just do my job." The stunts required for King's character made for a few inside jokes between the pair on set. "[Sister Night] has this long skirt on, and so it gets caught between her legs and we would have to flip our skirt back," Bynum says. "The [stunt] coordinators didn't understand, they thought we kept doing it because it looked cool. It's a simple, silly thing but at the end of the day, it was funny because it's something that you share with just that one other person that's funny to you. No one else knew why we were doing it, but it was essential." After establishing a solid working relationship on Watchmen, King brought Bynum on to The Harder They Fall, first hinting at the opportunity for the cowboy flick by telling Bynum, "Get your horseback riding skills up."

Though she's already in demand, Bynum has even higher aspirations. "This is going to sound big, but I really want to learn how to fly a plane and drive a boat," she says. "Those are on my bucket list, for sure."

For more stories like this, pick up the September 2021 issue of InStyle, available on newsstands, on Amazon, and for digital download Aug. 13th.