Walt Disney Heiress Courts Evangelicals With Anti-Gun Movie

Abigail Disney - H 2015
Courtesy of Joey L.

Well versed in her family's conservative politics, Abigail Disney discusses her new film 'The Armor of Light' (out Oct. 30), which tackles the gun controversy while also reaching out to fundamentalist Christians in a new way: "This film goes to them on their own terms, and they appreciate that."

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 16 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Though Hollywood often dismisses or mocks evangelical Christians, director Abigail Disney is specifically courting them with her new anti-gun documentary, The Armor of Light.

Disney boasts a calling-card name, hailing from the legendary Disney family (her father is former Disney vice chairman Roy E. Disney, who famously worked to oust Michael Eisner from the company, and her grandfather Roy O. Disney co-founded The Walt Disney Co. with her great-uncle Walt Disney. But it’s her family’s right-wing politics that allows her to speak to evangelicals in a way that Hollywood has never really attempted.

"I’m not an evangelical myself, but I was raised in a conservative household," she tells The Hollywood Reporter. "There was a lot of conflict about politics in my family. It’s actually one of the reasons I feel I can talk to conservatives. I think of myself as bilingual. I loved my parents very much, but I disagreed with them enormously."

That’s why Disney sees her film, which opens Oct. 30 in limited release and is particularly timely given the mass shooting at an Oregon community college last week, as a departure from other anti-gun films like Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine, which are essentially preaching to a liberal-on-all-issues choir. Disney is trying to sway those whose views are largely conservative and has begun to hold a series of nationwide screenings and discussions over the coming weeks to reach that long-ignored demographic.

"Evangelicals tend to be made to look stupid in Hollywood films, so they’re suspicious of Hollywood," she adds. "This film goes to them on their terms, and they appreciate that."

Armor of Light follows Rev. Rob Schenck, a D.C.-based anti-abortion activist and fixture on the political far right, who breaks with orthodoxy by questioning whether being pro-gun is consistent with being pro-life. In the process, he meets Lucy McBath, a fellow evangelical whose son was killed in a stand-your-ground case in Florida. Disney chronicles the pushback Schenck endures as well as the danger he faces by challenging the Second Amendment faction of his flock.

"You get a sense that people on this subject are unreasonable," Disney says of the film. "People don’t want him to come to their churches anymore. They reject what he’s got to say."

But at the first screenings, Disney has been heartened by how many evangelicals are embracing the film — particularly young, black and female audience members. Still, the older white male demographic continues to be resistant.

"In one screening in Washington, D.C., we had a gun guy rant for 10 minutes about why he hated the film," she recalls. "I let him do his thing. But then I asked him what his wife thought about it and looked at her, and she burst into tears uncontrollably. Once she pulled herself together, she said, 'This whole thing is out of control and has to stop.' "

Armor of Light will screen at the DGA in L.A. on Oct. 14, followed by a discussion with Disney, Schenck and McBath. In the run-up to the film’s theatrical release, Disney is reaching out to notable Hollywood evangelicals and deeply religious Christians like Roma Downey, Mark Burnett, Denzel Washington and Stephen Colbert to join the conversation. And though evangelicals and Hollywood’s anti-gun faction might make strange bedfellows, she’s hoping to bring the two sides together.

"We’re really digging the hole deeper every time we ignore evangelicals," Disney says. "Hollywood needs to treat these people with respect."