Pray the Devil Back to Hell (Virginia Reticker, 2008): USA

Reviewed by Linda Schad. Viewed at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

In Pray the Devil Back to Hell, the Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and director of this film, Virginia Reticker (Ladies First), teamed up with producer Abigail E. Disney to tell an amazing, stranger than fiction story that had gone largely untold and almost completely ignored by the world’s press, and focusing almost all its attention upon the ongoing wars in the Middle East.

After years of coping with forced conscription of children, un-prosecuted rapes, murders, dismemberments, looting and governmental corruption, a small group of ordinary Liberian women decided it was long past time to put a stop to the bloody civil war which was destroying their country, and took extraordinary steps, putting their own lives in jeopardy, to demand the unthinkable: peace for their war-torn nation.

In 2003, these women, led by Leymah Gbowee, came together and formed the Christian Women’s Peace Initiative. This movement grew and eventually numbered in the thousands by joining forces with Muslim women (the first time these two faiths had come together on any major projects in the nation’s history). They were helped greatly by Asafu Bah Kenneth, a female Muslim police officer whose motivating message was “Does a bullet know Christian from Muslim?”

This brave coalition of women staged sit-ins and organized non-violent protests for peace and to oust the dictatorial President Charles Taylor. Their weapons? Courage, picket signs, white T-shirts, and the cession of sex with their husbands.

The women would wear regular clothing, topped by white T-shirts with slogans, and sit in the central market of Monrovia, or along roadways, wherever they knew President Taylor would pass by, all in an effort to gain an audience with him, and to persuade him to attend peace talks with rival warlords–despite his reputation for killing anyone he considered an opponent.

Later, a contingent of women went to Ghana, locked arms and barricaded the site of stalled peace talks, and literally forced the warring parties to stay at the negotiation table until a settlement had been reached. But when the police tried to move the women, so the men could leave, the women threatened to remove their clothing. Unwilling to see mothers and grandmothers exposing themselves to such shame, the men returned to the talks. Agreements were made, and the organizers of the peace talks, men such as former Nigerian President Abubakar, came out later to acknowledge the women and their influence. As a result, President Taylor went into exile, and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected President of Liberia, Africa’s first female head of state.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a moving testimony to the power of love and courage, and the frequently untapped potential of women. The poignant message I got from this film: no matter how small her voice may be, no matter how far off her small corner of the world might be, a woman possessed of love and courage can step up, take matters into her own hands, and change the world. Each of us has the power to harness the beating wings of the butterfly.

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