Women

10.30.13

Abigail Disney: Telling War From A Women's Perspective

At the annual Women's Forum in France, Abigail Disney spoke with iLive2Lead delegates about putting women back in the frame when it comes to telling stories from conflict zones.

Seven iL2L delegates from 6 nations were invited to give the youth report on the findings at the annual Womens’ Forum in France this year. This year’s program’s theme was competition, cooperation, and creativity. Delegates looked at open digital innovation and the role women uniquely play in this arena. The program also examined the digital effect on Europe and what the future holds. The following Gen Y report comes to you from the Womens Forum:

We interviewed Abigail Disney, an American philanthropist, activist and filmmaker. Abigail is the producer of PBS’s “Women, War and Peace”, which shows a women’s perspective in several conflict zones, and films such as The Invisible War, Playground and The Queen of Versailles. Disney also founded Peace Is Loud. Disney’s series Women, War and Peace shows war from a completely women’s perspective and in doing so, totally changes one’s perception of war. We asked Disney what other subjects should to be told from a woman’s viewpoint, and why women are so often written out of the landscape. Imagine Sylvester Stallone, Disney said, sweaty and muscular with a bandana on his head and a huge gun in his hands. Now, put a women and a child next to him. What changes? “You can’t sustain the stereotypical images of male heroism, when women are in the frame, and I think that’s why they’ve been written out,” Disney said. She suggested that women are also written out of governance and leadership, because they pose a threat to the male narrative.

Disney’s first film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, tells the story of Christian and Muslim women in Liberia, who started a peace movement that ended a long and bloody civil war. When Disney first returned from Liberia, she knew she had to find the best way to share the women’s story with the public. Disney chose film, which she feels is the most effective vehicle to tell stories that create a momentum for social change. She said a film in a dark movie theater has the unspeakable power to capture all of your senses and transport you to a dreamlike state. That is what makes film unique, when compared to other mediums. “Film is the medium for communicating not just ideas, but things of the heart,” Disney said.

Disney said that making documentaries comes with the responsibility of telling somebody’s story right. We asked how to manage balancing fact and emotion in a documentary, and how to use the two for the fullest effect. “The greater good is achieved by not only telling people what they need to know, but also, filling them with a sense of empathy and love,” she said, “more often than not, logic loses because the greater good is served by a kind of knowing, that isn’t strictly informational.”

Disney spoke to the obstacles we as young women may face in our path to leadership. “There’s no one on this earth taken less seriously in a leadership context than a young woman—everything is against you”. She said that a key part of being taken seriously is looking and sounding like a leader, which is a problem for women—young and old—when the mainstream idea of what a leader looks like is a middle-aged white male. She says we need to expand the idea of what a leader looks like “partly by being an example of something else yourselves, partly by making sure that the media gives us the full story, which is that leadership can come in any kind of a package.” Disney blames the media for often-sexist portrayals of women, and spoke about the lack of female main characters and speaking-roles in TV and film. “There has to be the creation of a positive, vital, real media written by, for, and about women for all people to see,” she noted.

Disney encouraged us to not be afraid of being bold. “We have a world minus a whole lot of talent that has stepped out of contention for leadership, only because they don’t want to seem too aggressive, too smart, unattractive, or too male,” she said. Disney declared that there needs to be a surge of new momentum for women’s equality and rights, and that our generation has to play an active part. She advised us to find the tools that will amplify our voice and stick to it. “Filmmaking can turn a mouse into a lion,” she said.