FILM REVIEW: Pray the Devil Back to Hell

pray_the_devil_back_to_hell FILM: Pray the Devil Back to Hell
FILMMAKERS: Gini Reticker & Abigail Disney
REVIEWER: Katy Jones

On Monday night, Navin and I went to E Street Cinema to attend a free screening of the new doc “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”. The film is about a grassroots peace movement in Liberia started by women that effectively ended the brutal civil war in that country. Shout out to Wooly Mammoth Theater that sponsored the event as part of the publicity campaign for their new play Eclipsed.

The story is told mostly in interviews with a few very empowering and heroic women who were the strategic planners of this massive movement. The film opens with a riveting and goose-pimple inducing graphic interpretation of what the women have survived and achieved. Then it goes into interviews with the women who made peace happen – supported by graphic stock footage and photography.

The civil war in Liberia had erupted in 1989 as then warlord Charles Taylor tried to seize power. His armies hacked through the countryside, burning villages, raping women, murdering men, and taking young boys to be trained as child soldiers. Once Charles Taylor achieved the presidency in 1997, other warlords mimicked the brutality to try to seize power from him. After more than a decade of violence, the women of Liberia had had enough.

Leymah Gbowee decided to get women involved peace activism and took her message to her church. Muslim women, most notably Asatu Bah-Kenneth (now Deputy Inspector-General of the Police in Liberia) also mobilized to join the fight. Dressed in white, like Biblical characters, these women protested every day in front of Charles Taylor asking for peace. Their numbers grew so massive and drew so much attention that eventually President Charles Taylor was forced to acknowledge them. They extracted a promise that he would attend peace talks in Ghana with the rebelling warlords. The women applied the same public pressure to the warlords who also agreed to attend.

This was a dramatic and affecting story and the film walked a kind of line between journalism and personal journey.  The women interviewed are the architects of the movement, and their heroic characters are impressive and inspiring. In a movement that was meant for all the women (and people) of Liberia, it would have been extremely moving to also hear a bit more from women who had been displaced, from the Liberian statesmen who were affected by the message, from children who now looked up to their mothers, or from men talking about the effect the women had on their lives.

I was very affected the message of the film, and for the first time I think I got an idea of what really happened in Liberia.  I was left wanting more. That may be a good thing. Since watching the film, I have been spending a significant amount of free time obsessed with learning more about Liberia and the peace process since.

—3 out of 5 Cheers

Katy

For additional information about the peace process:

World Organization for Human Rights USA
Peace X Peace

Additional Documentaries about Liberia:

PBS’s Liberia: America’s Stepchild from 2003.
The upcoming independent film The Redemption of General Butt Naked

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One Reply to “FILM REVIEW: Pray the Devil Back to Hell”

  1. We’re pretty much in line with each other.

    I think that the movie initially won me over with its inspiring story, but I kept thinking about other threads it could follow. I believe it’s Gbowee who says that everyone believes there was a different motivation for the wars itself – natural resources, money, religion. But that simplification leaves the film with a stark black and white view of the world without nuance.

    But even more simply: how does this movement get its ubiquitious T-shirts?

    The focus of this film seemed a bit all over the place. If it was about the women who lead the movement, I couldn’t tell you anything about them. If it was about the war, I couldn’t tell you about that either.

    But.

    Man, did I love Leymah Gbowee. Her fierce charisma fated her for great things regardless of where she was. It’s fortunate that she was able to use it to stop a war.

    I’m going to just echo you and go with 3/5 cheers – there’s not a lot we disagree on here.

    Like

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