Going in a different direction in filmmaking compared to her siblings, Abigail’s films are not only meant to entertain, but to strike at the heart of the issue that she has been working for more than half of her life – women’s rights and welfare. Through her films, Abigail has managed to reach out to her audience and not only touch their hearts but also inspire them to help the women who are suffering from abuse in many parts of the world.
Abigail’s passion and dedication for women’s rights is not limited to the big screen – she has actively participated in promoting women’s rights and encouraging African women to stand up and fight for their right to live. Through the Daphne Foundation, which she co-founded, Abigail has made a significant impact in the lives of the suffering women around the world by giving them assistance in any way she can.
Abigail believes in the power of women to change the world, and this is why she has devoted her life into helping them. For her, when the issue of women’s rights and welfare is addressed, it will lead to the cooperation between men and women which will then result in the formation of a better world. As she says in a blog:
“I believe that the world has been managed by only half of its inhabitants for too long. Down to the tips of my toes I know that the addition of women's voices to the bargaining tables, congressional chambers, courts, boardrooms and head offices of the world would enrich and strengthen the integrity of the decision-making processes in those places and therefore make the world a better, cleaner, safer and more just place. Color me crazy but that just sounds like a good plan to me.”
The Disney Family Tree
Abigail skill and talent in filmmaking is not something that should surprise us; anyone who catches her last name knows very well that she comes from a long line of excellent filmmakers in almost every genre. Her grandfather is Roy Oliver Disney, who is the famed co-founder of the Walt Disney Company, along with his younger brother whom the company is named after.
Prior to entering the film industry, Roy served in the United States Navy in the First World War, being discharged from duty after he suffered an injury while at work. When he returned to the United States, Roy worked as a banker in Los Angeles, quickly rising through the ranks of the best bankers in the business.
In 1923, he collaborated with his younger brother Walt to create the Disney Bros Studio. While Walt focused on building the company’s creativity and ingenuity, Roy was the one who made sure that the company remained financially stable. He later on sold most of his shares to his brother, and renamed the company to the Walt Disney Company.
Later on, he became the chief executive officer of the company, and oversaw the construction of Disney World, one of the largest theme parks in the world. He met his wife Edna Francis and married her in 1925; five years later, Edna bore Roy their first and only child, which they named Roy Edward Disney. Roy died in 1971, leaving the company in the care of his son.
Roy Edward Disney became the new chairman of the Walt Disney Company’s board of directors after his father died. Under his management, Disney saw a couple of changes as Roy believed that the company was going nowhere with the decisions that were being made by the board.
He was among the few people that helped save the company from going below, and it was also under his care that the Walt Disney Company saw its renaissance period with the films such as “The Lion King”, “The Little Mermaid” and “Fantasia 2000”. All throughout his career, Roy worked for the betterment of the company, causing him to at times clash against the very people he appointed for bringing the company to another route.
Abigail Disney is Born
In 1955, Roy met Patricia Ann Dailey. The couple immediately took a liking to each other, and after a few months of courting, developed a romantic relationship that eventually resulted into marriage. Patricia bore Roy four children: Tim Disney, Roy Patrick Disney, Abigail Disney and Susan Disney Lord. Abigail was born in North Hollywood, California in 1960 and spent most of her childhood there.
A Heart For Philanthropy At A Young Age
Like her siblings and the kids in her neighbourhood, Abigail was exposed to the wealthy life, since her father was a CEO of one of the largest filmmaking companies of that time. Because Roy was often out of the house due to his work, Abigail and her siblings spent most of the time with their mother Patricia, who taught Abigail the importance of caring for others (however, Roy would make up for his busy schedules by often bringing his children out on lunches and walks), something that would inspire Abigail for the rest of her life.
And while she was also exposed in the filmmaking industry by her father, Abigail showed moderate interest in following her father’s footsteps at that time; she was more interested in the business aspect and the philanthropic work of the company.
Youth And School Life
As a student, Abigail was often credited by her teachers for her creativity and imagination. She was also a bright student, and was always given high marks in her studies. When she graduated from high school, Abigail entered Yale University to study English Literature. She was an excellent student, and was often praised by her professors for her amazing creative skills in writing and other areas. She graduated from the university in 1982 with high remarks, earning her bachelor’s degree. Afterwards, Abigail decided to go further in her studies and applied at Stanford University, where she earned her master’s degree in English Literature.
Abigail Gets Married
Later on, she went to Columbia University and completed her studies in English literature, earning her doctorate degree. While studying at Columbia University, Abigail met Pierre Norman Hauser, an editor at a local New York publishing firm. After a series of dates, Pierre and Abigail fell in love with each other, and in 1988, finally got married. Abigail and Pierre settled at New York after their marriage, and have since then lived with their four children.
Abigail Founds Daphne Foundation With Husband
In 1991, Pierre and Abigail founded the Daphne Foundation, which was a means for them to formalize their charitable efforts. The name of the organization was taken from the compounded initials of both Abigail and Pierre. The formation of the foundation was born out of the couple’s desire to ensure that they could give in both the good times and the bad, by having a more disciplined and focused effort in charitable giving.
Abigail and Pierre decided to focus on the five boroughs of New York City and concentrate the funding of the organization on six different categories of their grantees: Community Organizing, Youth or Afterschool, Job Training or Adult Education, Domestic Violence, Support for Incarcerated People and their Families, and Support for Immigrants.
Initially, the Daphne Foundation’s efforts were small and the approach was a bit haphazard due to not having a definite platform and desire from the community to fight poverty. There was also a slightly random portfolio of grantees, which the work quite difficult. Fortunately, due to the help of the people Abigail and Pierre met along the way (people such as Evie Rich, Eloisa Gordon and Yvonne Moore, who worked as the foundation’s executive directors, successively), the couple was able to make the organization’s approach more focused and disciplined.
Meeting Leymah Gbowee
Through the process of continuous research and improvement, the Daphne Foundation was able to give more grants, helping and improving the lives of more people in the community for the next decade.
In 2006, Abigail went to Liberia to assist in a peacekeeping mission as well as to help in the relief operations for the poverty-stricken country that had just ended its civil war. While in the country, Abigail got a chance meeting with Leymah Gbowee, who was one of the most popular Liberian peace activists responsible for leading a women’s peace movement that played a key role in ending the civil war in 2003.
Leymah impressed Abigail greatly due to the former’s amazing resolve and courage in playing her part in ending the war in spite of all the difficulties and obstacles she had to face. Abigail was so inspired by what she saw that when she returned to the United States, she came to a realization that her talent in filmmaking was indeed put in her for a purpose. And while she was not interested in making cartoon or family films (which her family’s film company was known for), Abigail saw an opportunity in promoting the efforts of the Liberian women in keeping the peace through film.
Leading Fork Films LLc
In 2007, Fork Films LLc was founded in New York City. According to its website, the production company is "dedicated to the development and production of films that move, inspire and enlighten. In the belief that film has a unique capacity to shed light, evoke compassion and stir action, Fork Films invests in and creates media that make an important social contribution, with a particular emphasis on material that has been overlooked, people who tend to be underestimated, and stories that have been left out of the mainstream historical record."
Abigail joins the roster of well-respected filmmakers who all have a heart for giving back to society by helping the less fortunate.
Filming Pray The Devil Back To Hell
Backed with the desire to make a documentary film about the women of Liberia and their role in ending the civil war, Abigail approached Gini Reticker, an Emmy Award winning director, to assist her in bringing Abigail’s desire into fruition. They went to Liberia and filmed the documentary which they entitled “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”. Upon its premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2008, the film garnered critical acclaim and won numerous awards, including the award for Best Documentary. When it was released in the United States some time during the same year, it became both a critical and financial success as well.
Upon her return to the United States, Abigail formally announced that she was expanding the scope of the Daphne Foundation to the nation of Liberia to aid in the rebuilding of the war-torn country. Among the aims of the foundation was the promotion of the availability of cheap and renewable energy sources that can bring electricity to the vast majority of Liberia’s residents who do not have access to the conventional power sources, and the application of grants to local community organizers and women’s groups.
In an interview made with Abigail regarding the Daphne Foundation’s methods in fighting poverty, she said:
“It would be hard to point to a single root cause of poverty, or even ten root causes, because of the complexity of the issues — race, class, and education — and the way they come together in a kind of toxic cocktail. We're trying to follow the problem upstream. So instead of simply paying for the casket, we go back and try to figure out what's killing the guy. In other words, making sure people have access to education and making sure the quality of that education is equal for everyone would be one way of addressing poverty from a root-cause perspective.”
Peace Is Loud Goes On Tour
That same year, Abigail launched Peace is Loud, a philanthropic organization that aims to “support female voices and international peace-building through nonviolent means.” Through Peace is Loud, Abigail was able to promote the importance of the participation of women in building a nation. She often states during interviews that those women who lived in countries that were enveloped in a lot of conflict have developed ways to survive and cope that could greatly benefit everyone.
The following year, in 2009, Peace is Loud organized a worldwide tour where it showed the film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” in the community screenings of the United States and other countries. When Abigail was interviewed regarding the significance of the film in her philanthropy, she answered:
“I don't consider it a change, so much as another step in a logical evolution. Out in the world, I learned that women have amazing capacities to effect change in the very places we think they're powerless, and I couldn't keep the information to myself. I was either going to make a film, write a book, or blow up. Film is the best way for me to communicate because of its ability to humanize situations and reach people at the level of their deepest feelings. Film also enables me to advocate for an issue I care about deeply. But that doesn't necessarily mean that my philanthropy will now be weighted more toward the global. As much as I try to be strategic about my philanthropy, I've rarely planned my life. All I know is I'm moving in a direction where I see I can have an impact. The road is unfolding in front of me, and I'm just walking it.”
During the same year, Abigail released her second film, titled Playground, which tackled on the dangers of sexual exploitation of children in the United States.
In December 2009, Abigail’s father Roy died of stomach cancer. Two years prior to his death, he filed a divorce for his marriage with Patricia, after living apart for some time. He married Leslie DeMeuse (a producer for CSTV) a year later. Abigail temporarily withdrew from her activities to mourn her father’s death. Her mother, Patricia, died two years later, in February 2012.
In 2011, Abigail collaborated with Gini Reticker once more to produce a five part television series titled “Women, War & Peace”, along with their partner Pamela Hogan. The series, which focused on the untold stories of women around the world who lived in wartime, became a success, and garnered a huge support for the efforts in promoting the series’ aim, which was to promote the importance of women in their countries.
Denouncing Ahava-Made Cosmetics
In 2012, Abigail announced that she was renouncing her share of profits from the investment that the Disney family made in Ahava cosmetics because of the fact that the company’s factory was located in a settlement at the West Bank. She stated in an interview regarding her decision:
“I cannot in good conscience profit from what is technically the ‘plunder’ or ‘pillage’ of occupied natural resources.”
More recently, Abigail continues in her efforts in helping people come out of poverty and promoting the rights of women worldwide. Aside from actively participating in the activities of her charitable organizations, Abigail also goes around the world, speaking in various conferences and events, and empowering the women to do their part in making a better society.
Organizations and Programmes Supported
- Daphne Foundation
- Roy Disney Family Foundation
- The White House Project
- Global Fund for Women
- Peace is Loud
- Fund for the City of New York
- Peace Research Endowment
- International Day of Peace
Awards and Achievements
- 2008: Won the Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival (Pray the Devil Back to Hell)
- 2008: Received the Silverdocs Witness Award (Pray the Devil Back to Hell)
- 2008: Won the Special Jury Prize for Non-Fiction Filmmaking at the Traverse City Film Festival (Pray the Devil Back to Hell)
- 2008: Received the Crystal Heart Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Heartland Film Festival (Pray the Devil Back to Hell)
- 2009: Received the Jury Award for Best Film at the Tri Continental Film Festival (Pray the Devil Back to Hell)
- 2009: Named as One of the Best of the Fest Selections at the Palm Springs International Film Festival (Pray the Devil Back to Hell)
- 2009: Received the Social Justice Award for Documentary Film at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (Pray the Devil Back to Hell)
- 2009: Received the Cinema for Peace Award for Justice (Pray the Devil Back to Hell)
- 2009: Received the Wilbur Award for Film Documentary of the Year (Pray the Devil Back to Hell)
- Received the International Advocate for Peace Award
- Received the Epic Award
- Received the Changing Landscape for Women Award from the Center for the Advancement of Women
- 2010: Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Lawrence University