This May, National Geographic is releasing a brand new limited series, “A Small Light”, on Disney+ around the world.  The series is based on an inspiring true story, Miep Gies was young, carefree and opinionated — at a time when opinions got you killed ― when Otto Frank asked her to help hide his family from the Nazis during WWII. Told with a modern sensibility, A Small Light shakes the cobwebs off history and makes Miep’s story more relevant than ever, forcing audiences to ask themselves what they would have done in Miep’s shoes; and in modern times, asking if they would have the courage to stand up to hatred. Some stood by, Miep stood up.

Recently, I got to speak with the creators of the show, Susanna Fogel, Tony Phelan and Joan Rater, about the new series, where they shared some stories about creating “A Small Light”.

Could you just give us a brief introduction to the series?

Tony Phelan:  Well, it’s the story of Miep Gies, who was Otto Frank’s secretary, and a young woman just starting out in life, newly married when Otto Frank asks her to help hide his family from the Nazis. And she immediately says yes. And then the series is really about the consequences of that yes, and what does it mean to exhibit that kind of kindness and that kind of strength and courage.

“A Small Light” is a very different kind of show for Disney+. We’ve had a lot of Marvel and Star Wars. How important and how difficult was it for you to do something a little bit different for Disney+?

Susanna Fogel:  Well, what was exciting about partnering with Disney Plus was really the reach that it has, and the idea that this is obviously a series that is trying to be good television and entertaining and immersive as well as historical. So just the idea that we can get in that many homes with that many people of all ages. Because I think Disney sort of, it transcends any sort of very specific demographic. It’s like everybody has Disney Plus. I don’t know, just the excitement of being able to tell the story with that platform.
And especially because if kids are able to find their way to this story, or people are able to find their way to this story who maybe live in a community that’s not talking about this stuff, or maybe denying it, or maybe banning it, Diary of Ann Frank, there’s a movement to do in certain states.

Joan Rater.: Or maybe not even know about the story. When my kid watched it, she knew a little bit, but she kept saying, “Did this really happen? Did this really happen?” And got more and more engrossed by the story. And so that’s exciting to us.

It’s been revealed that the show’s also going to be released on Hulu and all the linear networks, which ties in even more with wanting to get this story out to as many people as possible.

Joan Rater.:  Yeah, it’s fantastic.

Susanna Fogel: Yeah, it feels really wonderful. I mean, when you’re selling a show or pedaling it around, you have different visions of what it could be in different outlets. And some of those outlets are more rarefied, like the subscriber base of some of these different places is a little bit more like, this is for elite liberals on the coast, this is for… But this is sort of for everybody. So that’s what we want the show to be. We don’t only want to speak to other people who already know as much about history as we do. We want people to learn about history this way.

What’s been your highlight working on this series?

Tony Phelan: Just being able to work with such amazing people, the actors, the production designer, the cinematographer. We had an amazing crew in Prague, but I think probably the highlight for me is my encounters that I’ve had with survivors who have said to a person, “It’s really important that the next generation tell this story as well.” So we feel very honored to be able to do that and excited to bring it to a whole new audience.

Joan Rater.: Yeah. I mean, similarly the highlight is being able to tell this story. Miep’s story is something that we’ve been excited about for a long time, but being able to shoot in Amsterdam in some of the places that Miep and Jan and the Frank’s were. We shot outside the Frank’s actual apartment, that was really special.

Susanna Fogel: Yeah. I mean, it’s hard to pick just one moment. Yeah, I think generally when you’re making something, and just the amount of work and decision making that goes into making a show of this scale, sometimes you start to… Every so often you’ll be emotionally arrested by something that you’ve been working on for months and months, and not on autopilot, but you’re making so many logistical decisions making a show that every so often when you have this moment of just stopping and feeling really emotional about what you’re doing, that phenomenon was the most special for me. Just realizing the impact. And sometimes that was like we’re shooting outside the Frank apartment. Other times it was just, I don’t know, just moments where you stop-

Joan Rater.: Susanna would come up to me and go, “We’re doing this.”

Susanna Fogel: Yeah. It was really surreal. Those moments of surrealness were amazing and don’t happen on most shows because most shows don’t have that other level of depth, I think, or they’re not provoking the same set of feelings.

On the flip side to that, what were the biggest challenges to creating A Small Light?

Susanna Fogel:  I think the biggest challenge was just not to get in our heads about the weight of the story, because obviously, the buy-in to working on the show is that the story has weight. That’s why we’re telling it. That’s why we’re telling it this way, we know it’s important. But you can kind of zoom way out and say, “Oh my God, we are taking on this something even adjacent to the story of Anne Frank, who do we think we are doing that? Oh my God, we’re going to do that. This is going to be part of that canon of stories about this most famous victim of that time.”  And I think the more you can get in your head about that, the less you’re thinking about what we’re actually showing up and doing every day, which is just putting one foot in front of the other and telling a human story. So yeah, I think my own neurosis around taking this on, which is a very Jewish answer, but that’s my own neurotic issues with my Jewish story that I’m telling as a Jewish woman.

Joan Rater.: Well, we also were telling, as well as the story of Miep, we were telling the story of her husband Jan, who was an active member of the Resistance. And he, in real life, didn’t like to talk about the war after the war. So there’s not a lot of specifics that his family knew or that are known about Jan. And so we had to do a lot of research and try to see if we could discover specifics about what Jan did as a member of the resistance. And we discovered some things, but because he was so, not a guy to talk about himself, we ended up… What we knew is that he was a social worker and that he was recruited at work. And so we had to sort of imagine what social workers, what he would’ve done. So that was challenging.

Tony Phelan:  I think just as a manager, trying to make sure that everyone who was working on the show was inspired and was in an environment where they could do their best work. And I think, ultimately the three of us were pretty successful at doing that.

“A Small Light” will have a multinetwork launch on Monday, 1st May 2023, at 9/8c with a simulcast across National Geographic, Nat Geo WILD and Lifetime of the first two episodes. Freeform will encore the premiere episodes on Saturday, May 6th at 8/7c. For the full series run, two episodes will debut every Monday at 9/8c on National Geographic, with episodes being available to stream the next day on Disney+ around the world and Hulu, and will be available on the Nat Geo TV and ABC apps.

Are you looking forward to watching “A Small Light”?  Let us know on social media!






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Roger Palmer

Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom. Email: Twitter: Facebook:

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