Q & A with Abigail Disney: Listening to Women About War

When asked if Abigail Disney remembers the first time she picked up a camera, the Global Fund for Women board member laughs and says, “Of course I do, because I was 47-years-old.”

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Even though Abigail grew up in a famous family, with a globally recognized last name, she decided to become a filmmaker after unearthing a story about Leymah Gbowee, a Global Fund grantee in Liberia who founded Women Peace and Security Network Africa. Abigail came back from Liberia angry that she had never heard Gbowee’s story before, so she connected with a team of filmmakers to produce her first documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

Now, Abigail is hooked. No matter how hard she tries, she can’t stop storytelling. She is co-creator of Women, War & Peace, a new PBS five-part documentary series that uncovers the powerful role of women building peace during war and conflict.

Global Fund: As a board member and long-time supporter of the Global Fund for Women, how did that relationship influence your decision to produce Women, War & Peace?

Abigail: Global Fund was central to my values around making these films because it’s the Global Fund and other women’s funds that I’ve worked with that have shown me the light in terms of the real meaning behind the word “grassroots.”

The word gets thrown around and beaten up, and you lose sense of how important it is to talk to women at the grassroots level. We need to hear directly from women who are affected by conflict, because they are not passively lying on the side of the road waiting for someone to save them. They are smart, fierce, creative and amazing people who have a lot to say.

Global Fund: How did you decide to feature Global Fund grantee partner, Afghan Institute of Learning in the third part of the series, Peace Unveiled?

Abigail: When you go to a country that has been in war for a long time, or any place where there’s great poverty, it’s very difficult to find the legitimate voices.

Global Fund board member [and founder of Afghan Institute of Learning], Sakena Yacoobi, was one of the first people I spoke to when we started talking about filming in Afghanistan. I ran everything through a sort of Sakena filter because she has such a powerful eye; her moral center is so balanced.

Global Fund: How do you hope to eliminate what you call the “media’s blind spot” in reporting on women’s roles during conflict?

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Watch Women, War & Peace

The series will premiere on PBS Tuesday nights from Oct. 11 to Nov. 8, 2011. Check your local listings for air times.

Abigail: The media yawns and their eyes glaze over when you talk about women. If we can show them just how riveting these stories can be, we can really make a difference.

But, we’ve all grown up with war narratives, like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. The central defining eye is seen through a man’s. We never really think to consider that every image has been set designed and color corrected. We need to stop and remember that’s not reality.

Global Fund: Why should men care about this series?

Abigail: Men lose so much in the current way we are going about our business. It’s not just women who aren’t in rooms [during peace talks], but all types of men aren’t there either. Men I know and love aren’t in those peace talks.

If women can be brought to center of those rooms in the kinds of numbers where they don’t have to be ashamed to act like women, it loosens up the space so it’s not just one type of man dividing up money and political power. Rather, all kinds of men and women, side-by-side, bringing their different narratives to build a sustainable peace.

Global Fund: What can our network do to act in solidarity with women living in conflict zones?

Abigail: Of all the things we’ve exported as a country, we’ve exported the mythology of war better and more thoroughly than every other place. One of the things I see when I go to other countries is Mickey Mouse. I feel proud because he’s loved and admired universally in places where people don’t even have TV sets. But, the other character I see in every other country is Rambo… And what he means is, the most beautiful way to make meaning as a man, is to kill. We are responsible for that narrative, and we need to push back on the people who weave the narratives and ask for better.

You are invited to a public screening of Peace Unveiled before it airs on PBS.
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