Pray the Devil Back to Hell Inspires Women’s Groups Around the World
Abigail Disney did not want to be a filmmaker. However, despite having “moved 3,000 miles away from home for a reason,” in 2007, the Disney heiress and philanthropist accepted her “family chromosome” for the medium and produced a documentary on the Liberian women’s peace movement. The film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, was shown on October 10 at the National Arts Club in New York City.
Responding to the media’s love of “almost pornographic” conflict footage, Disney made Pray the Devil Back to Hell to pay respect to stories that “were literally being erased” and to propagate a peacekeeping legacy.
“Women have [waged peace] before. Women were doing this a hundred years ago,” she told audience members at the Harvardwood (a Harvard alumni network) sponsored event. “If we saw that 95% of people in the world are trying to do the right thing, we might act differently.”
The film acts as a sort of case study. At each challenge, the audience is guided through the strategic plan of charismatic female Liberian leaders. To engage male citizens, the interreligious coalition of women organized a “sex strike.” When warlords stalled peace talks, they linked arms and took the men hostage until negotiations moved forward, threatening to strip naked if their demands were not met. The film also takes us beyond the cessation of conflict, when most media outlets lose interest, and follows the peacemakers as they organize the female vote, resulting in the election of Africa’s first female head-of-state, Ellen Sirleaf.
This instructive power is potent. In addition to gaining popular attention after winning Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival, Pray the Devil Back to Hell has been shown to women’s groups in several post-conflict areas, making its debut in Bosnia in 2008. After screenings, women’s groups have been inspired to sit down and draft documents for their own peacemaking activities.
Disney will continue to use film to affirm women’s centrality in conflict resolution. Another project is already underway, again in partnership with Gini Reticker, her collaborator for Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a series about women in conflict called Women and Children First. Inspiring collective action will continue to be her goal.
Disney wants the next generation to learn the power of uniting with others, worrying that “we tell our kids that they should change the world. This is the wrong message and it is a task that is far too heavy for one person.”
She has a new message.
“Tell them to be part of the big team that will change things.”
To find a screening or learn more click here
To learn more about Harvardwood click here
To reach the author, please email her at MTu@changingourworld.com