Disney presents on peace, accepts honorary degree

Maija Anstine

(tara atkinson)

Abigail Disney, philanthropist
and award-winning film producer,
delivered a convocation address
titled “Peace is Loud” in the
Memorial Chapel Thursday, Jan.
28. As part of the same convocation,
President Jill Beck presented
Disney an honorary doctor of
humane letters degree.
The ceremony opened with
traditional Balinese music from
Lawrence’s Cahaya Asri Gamelan
ensemble. Beck called Disney a
“compassionate philanthropist,
filmmaker, ambassador of justice
and fervent champion of women’s
rights,” before presenting her with
the honorary degree.
Disney’s address focused on
her 2008 film, “Pray the Devil Back
to Hell.” The documentary tells
the story of a group of Liberian
women who broke down barriers
of religion to stop the prolonged,
bloody war that had taken over
their country.
Disney told the audience
the same story that the Liberian
women had told her: Civil unrest
and tyranny had consumed the
country when former Liberian
president and “vampire on steroids”
Charles Taylor was in power,
having sucked up public resources
and “gutted institutions.”
The women in Disney’s film
overcame religious barriers to
band together, first fasting, singing
and praying on the sides of
roads frequently driven on by the
president and eventually following
their government to peace talks in
Ghana. The women took drastic
measures, locking arms around the
building and taking the warlords
hostage.
The police began arresting the
women for “disrupting the justice,”
which inspired one woman
to strip naked, which, as Disney
put it, is “as ballistic as an African
woman can go.” The police refused
to arrest the women, forcing peace
negotiations to take place within
the building.
With the tale as illustration,
Disney explained, “Peace is something
you make and not something
you can take for granted … peace
is something you do; peace is a
verb. We all choose peace or not
every day with every action, decision
or omission we make in our
daily lives.”
Disney also emphasized the
necessity of cooperation, stating,
“We are all interrelated and interdependent.
Every day we are bolstered
and empowered by thousands
of little moments of faith
and generosity of which communities
are made.”
War is “the failure of women
and men to live in respect and
empathy,” Disney said.
Disney also addressed the
trouble that American audiences
who have never seen war might
have in identifying with the film.
“We are at war, but few of
us have seen war since the Civil
War. We have been treated to an
Orwellian spectacle full of language
designed to disguise,” she
said, referencing the way our culture
has glamorized conflict, specifically
by “sanitizing” the conflicts
in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The filmmaker ended her
speech with a reference to the
“alchemy” of the Gamelan music
heard at the beginning of the convocation,
and how the music is
able to turn “disparate pieces into
one unified whole.”
“No one person can solve any
of the problems this world faces,”
Disney said, “but then again, no
one person is expected to, either …
and that’s how change is made in
the world.

(tara atkinson)

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