Director Abigail Disney is out to push your buttons, make you think, and openly challenge the things that you believe to be true about guns, violence, and peace. Since she engaged fully in charitable work in her thirties, she has had a love for people often dismissed by society and the issues that either bind us together or drive us apart. In her latest film, The Armor of Light, Disney serves as both executive producer and director, taking aim at our understanding of what it means to be faithful, gun-carrying citizens of the USA.
“I started traveling when my kids were older, and I encountered these stories that I felt needed to be told,” Disney shared from New York. “In Liberia, I found this fully ready-for-film story [Pray The Devil Back To Hell] and it worked.”
Disney has admittedly pushed buttons with her films, and Armor of Light is no different, saying that there’s a weight that comes with her last name. [She’s the daughter of Walt Disney World co-founder, Roy Disney.] “I’m willing to push buttons, and not everyone likes that. Some people think that the Disney name means that I should keep everything comfortable,” Disney told me. “But the end result is that after they’ve seen it, the name seems to push them toward too happy or too mad; my name really drives out the neutrality.”
The Armor of Light is the kind of polarizing movie that everyone should see… but they will be extremely divided over. When Rev. Rob Schenck found himself praying as a representative of faith at situations like the Navy Shipyard or Sandy Hook Elementary, his convictions about being pro-life [in regards to abortion] began to challenge his politically conservative thoughts on gun ownership, control, and ideology.
“Our country is built on an identity entrenched in certain attitudes and frames of mind,” the director continued. “Gun ownership is a way of declaring who you are, and people feel threatened by more than gun control. They see it as a confrontation over respect for authority, tradition, and history.”
“People seem to be divided into two camps, where the other side has been traumatized by situations where guns were involved and can’t imagine why some people are so connected to their guns. We tried to explore the story with a sensitivity for what people are thinking and feeling.”
To find the right person to frame their documentary around, Disney told me that she called people on the left and the right. As executive producer and director, Disney put in calls to see who had worked on the Narnia movies, and encountered people along the way who weren’t willing to say what they believed publicly. Then, a progressive friend of Disney’s told her about a minister who she had met at an interfaith forum, and Disney called Schenck to see if he would be willing.
After Disney’s crew filmed months worth of footage, the director sat down for a year to process the footage. “We knew that we needed to find the story,” Disney said, chuckling. “It’s like there’s a giant pile of spaghetti, and you pull out the one strand that’s just right to keep it all connected.”
This exploration of gun-related deaths, Schenck’s involvement and inner musings, and conversations featuring both sides of the argument resulted in a ninety-minute film that will leave you questioning how you handle confrontation. But Disney is clear that this is a bigger issue than just ‘gun control.’
“I don’t think that everyone who owns a gun has an itchy trigger finger,” the director shared. “I think that not everyone has run the risk/reward analysis, but they’re presented with facts from both sides that are contested. I wish we could get everyone to agree to let a neutral third party provide the ‘facts’ of the situation.”
“I really struggle with the language we use: ‘stand your ground,’ ‘make my day,'” Disney said. “There’s nothing Christian about that as an approach. I could say I was going to run over and kick someone in the shins, but there are other ways to handle things. There are non-lethal, non-violent options. In this land of creativity, where we trumpet ingenuity, we can’t think of another way to fix these situations?”
I asked Disney what she thought of more recent situations, including Schenck’s response to the shooting at Umpqua Community College or the ‘justified’ shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and the way we respond to them politically. “There are higher principles than what’s written in the law,” she said. “Whether you’re Christian, Muslim, or Jewish, you believe there’s something else. You’d hope that our elected officials would carry those things that many of us believe into their responsibilities as they represent us. We would certainly be better served by principled decisions, but that hasn’t been happening.”
The making of The Armor of Light has drawn Disney herself back to a place of faith. After years of running from conservative, Catholic faith, she has accepted faith over simply ‘believing’. “I was always that kid who was listening, and it never really left my heart,” Disney shared. “I think it’s liberating to be part of the community, to find faith together.”
Disney’s desire for peace – and her recently renewed faith – have set her on this road, and what happens next will be determined by how far she can take this message. No matter what, she’s telling stories that need to be told, and asking others to put down their arms and sit down to talk at the table.