Abigail Disney disavowed an acclaimed documentary about terrorism that she produced after Muslim critics accused its director of promoting harmful stereotypes about Islam.
Disney, the grandniece of Walt Disney and granddaughter of his brother and Disney co-founder Roy Disney, is listed as the executive producer of “Jihad Rehab,” a 110-minute long film that was directed by Meg Smaker.
Smaker, a 42-year-old former firefighter from California, traveled to Afghanistan and then to Yemen after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
After learning to speak fluent Arabic, she began making a film about a Saudi facility where captured jihadists undergo a rehabilitation in order to wean themselves off of extremist ideology.
Smaker takes viewers inside the Mohammed bin Nayef Counseling and Care Center in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, where reformed terrorists are taught art lessons and psychology and are also allowed access to a pool and a gym.
Initially, Disney was thrilled with Smaker’s work, calling it “freaking brilliant” in an email to the filmmaker, according to The New York Times.
But Disney disavowed the project after Arab and Muslim critics took issue with Smaker’s race, arguing that a white woman from California could not tackle the subject of Islamic extremism in a sensitive, unbiased way.
Smaker was accused of peddling Islamophobia and American propaganda. The criticism prompted Sundance Film Festival, one of the most prestigious forums in cinema, to rescind its invitation to screen the documentary.
Jude Chehab, a Lebanese American filmmaker, wrote a review in TRTWorld in which she declared: “When I, a practicing Muslim woman, say that this film is problematic, my voice should be stronger than a white woman saying that it isn’t. Point blank.”
In an open letter, Disney wrote that the film “landed like a truckload of hate.”
“I failed, failed and absolutely failed to understand just how exhausted by and disgusted with the perpetual representation of Muslim men and women as terrorists or former terrorists or potential terrorists the Muslim people are,” Disney wrote.
“I may not be in total agreement with every criticism of the film but that does not obviate my responsibility to earnestly own the damage I had a hand in.”
The Post has sought comment from Disney.
Disney’s letter and the decision by Sundance to rescind its invite prompted other film festivals to do the same, according to the Times.
Smaker was disinvited to the Austin-based South by Southwest festival as well as the San Francisco Film Festival.
She told the Times that the backlash against her film and the subsequent cancelations left her in debt to the point that she needed to borrow money from her parents.
“I don’t have the money or influence to fight this out,” Smaker told the Times.
“I’m not sure I see a way out.”