Sofija Stefanovic on Abigail Disney
I was nervous about meeting Abigail Disney. For one thing, she carries the name of the Disney empire, whose loyal subject I have been since toddlerhood. She is also a ‘do-gooder’, who devotes herself to charities and peacebuilding in warzones. Her documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which tells the story of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, has become a powerful tool to mobilise African women in peacebuilding and conflict resolution, and may have been instrumental in leader Leymah Gbowee’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. To top it off, she’s a documentary filmmaker, a mother of four, and she holds a PhD in literature.
But this is our second Skype date and my feelings of inadequacy are long gone. I don’t even bother to kick the two sleeping dogs off my lap to simulate professionalism. I hear Abigail’s voice first; she hasn’t turned the camera on. She speaks fast and sounds a touch overwhelmed, with a note of laughter coming through. It’s 10pm New York time, and there’s a lot of action I can’t see. I hear red-faced kids bashing about at the end of a summer’s day. ‘Sorry Eamon, sorry guys, I need this room.’ Tonight, Abigail’s got two extras, children of Liberian friends.
With a warning of, ‘I look like hell,’ Abigail turns her camera on. She’s in her bedroom. We stay here long enough for me to admire the painting behind her, layers upon layers of white paint. Then the internet connection is lost.
She reappears several minutes later. She seems to be in a cupboard, surrounded by coats. ‘No, I’m on the floor at the entrance of the house. This is often where I find myself. In life,’ she laughs.
Each time someone passes, Abigail turns the computer on them. ‘This is Sofija, in Australia. Say hi.’ Abigail is capable of stopping mid-complex-thought, having an exchange about teeth-brushing with a child, and finishing her sentence, as if the small boy in pyjamas who just said goodnight was a figment of my imagination.
As we settle into our hallway chat, Abigail’s daughter Olivia and her friend try to sneak out with a bottle of wine. They have to hop over Abigail. ‘Now you see what a permissive mother I am,’ she sighs. Then Banksy starts barking. Abigail tries to grab the dog, unaware that pandemonium is about to occur—because here in Melbourne, my two mutts spring to alertness. They answer Banksy’s call and suddenly, three dogs are barking wholeheartedly and we can’t hear each other anymore. Our interview continues in this funny, punctuated way.