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
For additional information about the peace process:
Additional Documentaries about Liberia: