Blazing trails and busting genres

Meet Cassie Jo Craig, singer, stunt woman and American Ninja Warrior

Written by Amy Palser

Growing up in Wichita, Cassie Jo Craig never limited herself to just one interest or talent. She took karate and gymnastics, ran track, sang in choir, did competitive cheerleading and interned as a graphic artist. All of this made for an exciting, albeit very busy, school career. “Going from thing to thing, I basically lived out of my car in high school,” recalled the 2008 Maize High School grad. “The only thing I ever got in trouble for was having the messiest car ever.”

Today, the 30-year-old Craig’s many talents have landed her success in Hollywood — and true to form, her achievements are in several very different genres. Craig is a stunt double on multiple TV series, acts in commercials, and writes and records music. The daughter of Eddie Craig and Sherri and Greg Lakin, all of Wichita, Craig spent July in Wichita while the film and TV industry halted production due to Covid-19. She splits her time between LA and Atlanta.

Currently, Craig is a stunt double for one of the lead actors in the superhero drama series “Black Lightning,” which has had three seasons since premiering on The CW in January 2018. The show follows the story of DC Comics superhero Black Lightning, who comes out of retirement to fight the good fight along with his two superhero daughters. Craig is the stunt double for China Anne McClain, who plays daughter Jennifer and her superhero alter ego Lightning.

The series’ fourth season is set to premiere in January 2021, although filming that was set for July has been delayed due to Covid-19. Craig hopes filming, which takes place in Atlanta, will resume by the end of the year.

“It’s such an incredible feeling to help create this incredibly strong female character,” Craig said. While getting such a cool job is a reward in itself, Craig said she looks at the big picture of what being a Black stunt woman means. In the film industry’s pursuit to be more inclusive, Craig said there are more and more roles for Black women, and therefore more dreams to dream for young Black girls in America.

“Growing up, I never saw me on TV. I never saw anyone who looked like me or anyone who made it seem like I could achieve these things,” she said. “So it feels really cool to double for China as a Black female superhero — to show that it’s possible, especially for the little girls in the Midwest and in Wichita who feel they can’t dream that way. Maybe what I do will make them think, ‘Maybe I can do this crazy thing I’ve never seen anyone do,’ and maybe dream a little bit bigger, whether it’s to be an actress or a stunt woman or a marine biologist. It feels good to make a little bit of a way.”

Craig said that although the last few months have been difficult and disjointed, she feels some cohesion between her success in the film industry and the racism issue in America. With a Black father (who was a corrections officer) and a white mother, she said she has a difficult but powerful vantage point. “I think it’s important for the Black community to keep having these conversations and stay vigilant, even when we run out of patience,” she said. “And I need for my white side to know that white privilege does exist, and it’s not a negative term; systemic racism is real but you’re never going to personally feel it, and the sooner you get there, the sooner we can move forward with a solution together. I think it’s worth having these conversations. I’m in this unique position where it’s a privilege in itself to be both races, I think.”

Carving New Paths

Being true to herself and her talents has been a hallmark of Craig’s life. Dad Eddie owned a dojo, so she started taking karate at age 4 and added gymnastics classes at age 6, to the tune of 20 hours a week in the gym. “I was always running around and jumping off of things,” she said. But while she was a natural athlete, she also loved the performing arts as well as graphic arts, and managed to do all of them in school.

She attended Wichita State University and was on the track and cheer teams. She won four conference championships in track and won the pole vault state title her junior and senior years. With a degree in electronic media, Craig landed a job at software company PK Technology in Wichita after graduation. But then Kacy Catanzaro happened.

Catanzaro was the first woman to qualify for the finals of the TV show “American Ninja Warrior” in 2014. Over the next 24 hours, Craig’s friends plastered Craig’s Facebook page with videos of Catanzaro’s performance alongside messages like, “She is so much like you!” and “You could totally do this!” Buoyed by the encouraging messages, Craig submitted an application video to “American Ninja Warrior” in January 2015, got accepted, and by April was filming Season 7 of the show in Kansas City. “I made it to the obstacle right before the last obstacle,” Craig said.

Once she tasted “American Ninja Warrior,” she wanted more, so she moved to L.A. in 2017 where she could train at a ninja gym and pursue music. Her Wichita boss let her work remotely, so she rented a loft apartment and for a year did graphic design from her home office, worked out and trained. Before long she had an acting agent and started going to auditions. The first gig she landed was for an Apple commercial. “They needed someone who could do parkour and they liked the braids in my hair,” she said.

Meanwhile, a high school friend working in Hollywood contacted Craig about an opportunity as a stunt double, and she got the job. Since then, Craig has done stunt work on the TV series “Station 19,” “Games People Play,” “Dollface,” “Marvel’s Runaways” and “Boomerang.” She also appeared on seasons 8 and 9 of “American Ninja Warrior” and seasons 1, 2 and 3 of spinoff “Team Ninja Warrior.”

As for her music, Craig said she has written and recorded over 40 songs and hopes to release some of them in the next month. You can hear her featured on two songs by other artists: Josh Sallee’s “Pressure” and Freddie Gibbs’ “Diamonds 2.”

The pause in TV and film production has brought one more of Craig’s talents to the surface — sewing. “I have asthma so I made some masks for myself because my grandmother taught me to sew. Then I started an Etsy store for masks and now I sew like 12 to 14 hours a day. That’s how I’ve been paying my bills for the last few months.” You can find her masks at CustomMaskShop on Etsy.

Craig says all of her endeavors come from the same place: a curiosity inside of her. “In a way they all feel like the same thing, whether it’s visual art, writing, music, athletics. This is what my brain does and it has always worked that way.”

 
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