Cecilia Peck ’80 with her mentor: To Kill a Mockingbird author and family friend Harper Lee, who died in 2016.
Courtesy Cecilia Peck ’80
Lessons about social justice learned at Princeton fuel an activist documentarian

Actor-turned-documentarian Cecilia Peck ’80 has lived a life following the moral example set by Atticus Finch of To Kill A Mockingbird, played in the film by her father, Gregory. Cecilia Peck, the only daughter of Gregory and wife Veronique, a French journalist, grew up in Los Angeles and went to Catholic schools. She lived a relatively sheltered life, although she traveled to film sets across the world and family dinner guests included Hollywood A-listers like Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Fred Astaire.

“I developed an awareness of women’s issues while at Princeton,” Peck says. “While my primary focus was on theater, I knew there was a long way for women to go on campus, and we had the advantage of having an outspoken activist for women’s rights — Sally Frank ’80 — there to educate us.”

Peck on the set of Brave Miss World
Courtesy Brave Miss World

Carrying on her penchant for social activism, Peck’s latest film is a forthcoming documentary called Breaking Bones, Breaking Barriers, about women and minority stunt performers in Hollywood.

After graduation, Peck was unable to break through in publishing in New York, so she began acting in plays and films. Her acting credits range from Wall Street to My Best Friend Is a Vampire to Torn Apart, where she plays a Palestinian teacher in love with an Israeli soldier.

She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in The Portrait, a 1993 made-for-television movie that co-starred her father and Lauren Bacall.

But at 35, Peck reassessed her career and started to make the move into documentaries. Peck, who speaks French, apprenticed with Barbara Kopple, director of two Oscar-winning documentaries, who was shooting in France and needed a bilingual assistant producer. The pair later collaborated on a documentary about Gregory Peck. Kopple and Peck would also co-direct and produce the critically acclaimed Shut Up & Sing, about the public backlash against the Dixie Chicks after their lead singer said that she was ashamed then-President George W. Bush was a Texan.

A model from Israel, Linor Abargil, saw the film and was so moved by Peck’s work that in 2008 she sought out Peck to help tell her own story. Abargil had been crowned Miss World in 1998, just weeks after being raped at knifepoint. Making what became the Emmy-nominated Brave Miss World took five years, with shoots in South Africa, Israel, Italy, and on U.S. college campuses, including Princeton. It demanded thousands of hours of fundraising.

The film follows Abargil as she helps rape survivors take back their lives through her own example. At one point, Abargil’s PTSD symptoms returned and she left the project for six months. Peck stuck with it; “I felt [this] was one of the most important films I could ever make.”

Peck still tours with Brave Miss World on college campuses and says its website, bravemissworld.com, has had 5.6 million visitors and has become an important online resource for survivors of sexual assault.

Peck is married to journalist Daniel Voll and has a son, Harper (named for Mockingbird author Harper Lee), and daughter, Ondine. Her latest film takes aim at widespread and deeply entrenched discrimination facing stunt performers. She is in the final phases of fundraising for Breaking Bones, due out next year.

“Did you know,” she asks, “that white stuntmen were ‘painted down’ to double for black performers? And for women, sometimes they put wigs on a guy?”