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January 23, 2018

The Best of NoMad: Abigail Disney

Abigail Disney is a filmmaker and one of NoMad's best.

Reading Abigail Disney’s Wikipedia summary, one can only be awed by her accomplishments. An American documentary filmmaker, scholar, philanthropist and activist, Disney holds a BA from Yale, an MA in English Literature from Stanford and a PhD in English Literature from Columbia. She is also a mother of four, has been given numerous awards for her work, and sits on the boards of the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation, the Fund for the City of New York, Search for Common Ground, Shining Hope for Communities, and the Peace Research Endowment. She’s been the Executive Producer of over 30 films, has produced three, written two, and directed one — for which she received an Emmy nomination. Her best-known works are PraytheDevilBacktoHellTheTrialsofSpringand TheArmorofLight.

That’s a stunning biography, but what really sets Abigail Disney apart is her deeply felt activism and philanthropy. Someone was once praising her to me, and as he spoke, I remember thinking, “The degree to which she is involved with the charities she supports reminds me of Brooke Astor.”

In 1991 Ms. Disney created The Daphne Foundation with her husband Pierre Hauser to fund programs to confront the causes and consequences of poverty in New York City’s five boroughs. In 2008, she launched Peace is Loud that spotlights women leaders on the frontlines of peace building worldwide. She plays an active role in both organizations as founder and director.

But her activism is not just a boardroom affair. In 2010, she donated her profits from the Disney family investments in Ahava cosmetics located in a West Bank settlement “to organizations working to end this illegal exploitation,” saying “I cannot in good conscience profit from what is technically the ‘plunder’ or ‘pillage’ of occupied natural resources . . .” In 2011, she traveled with Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to work with women peace activists to find ideas for building peace in their country. She also visited Sri Lanka the following year with the same mission. In May 2015, Disney joined Gbowee and 28 other women peacebuilders from around the world to cross the De-Militarized Zone separating North and South Korea. Their purpose was to show solidarity with Korean women and to call for an end to the Korean conflict.

Late last year, Ms. Disney was quoted by USA Today as saying, “Although I was raised amid privilege and good fortune, I have always been cognizant of income and wealth inequality. It has never sat well with me.” It was probably that sensitivity that made, Abigail Disney recently step out in the spotlight to express her dismay at the Republican tax bill. In a NOW THIS video, she pointed out that the legislation means a “very fat tax cut” for her on income “she did nothing to earn.” It takes courage to be so forthright — so much courage that it is unlikely you’ve ever heard expressed before.

In the video, she did not mince words, “With a suffocating education system, a dying infrastructure, and a national debt that will be at least $1.5 trillion bigger, social mobility will be far out of reach for people like you, but I will be able to stay comfortably right where I am. Does that strike you as fair?”

Some bloggers unfairly criticizing Ms. Disney, for her stand. You see, she is also the grandniece of Walt Disney, and they seemed to think that because of her wealth that she was in no position to speak. On the contrary, her position makes her preeminently qualified to speak on this subject, particularly because her commitment to social justice is deeply felt, proven over time by her actions, and reflective of the Abigail Disney that those who know her best admire. This is not a woman who has taken her wealth and positon for granted, but one who has striven to develop herself into a great human being who actively contributes her time and treasure to make our society more peaceful and fair.

We are honored to have you living in NoMad, Ms. Disney, and thank you for all you have done and continue to do.