Fortunate Accidents: The Making and Aftermath of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”

Morgan Zajkowski, VGIF UN Representative


Executive producer of Women, War & Peace Abigail Disney remains surprisingly down to earth despite the success she has had with her multiple films. The five-part film series is an emotional compilation of stories portraying women’s reaction to war and how they are immersing themselves in the peace processes. The recipient of the International Advocate for Peace Award and a 2011 Academy Award Nominee, Disney is distinguished for her films and her message: “We are shooting at each other and it’s stupid.”

At a Mission of Norway sponsored event held in the United Nations Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium on 28 February 2012, Disney spoke about her film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” to an audience attending the 56th United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The moving documentary tells the story of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Leymah Gbowee and her non-violent struggle in the 2003 Liberian civil war between independent warlords and dictator, Charles Taylor. “General Leymah” and her thousands of female troops formed a powerful and ultimately successful inter-faith movement protesting the war. The movement proved instrumental in pushing the peace talks forward in Ghana and the following election of Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Disney explained that her connection to the story was completely accidental. She traveled to Liberia to see what she could do to help support President Sirleaf and ended up piecing together the story of the Women of Liberia Peace Network from many different people. After she returned to the U.S., she recalled the anger she felt about having never heard the story before and knew that she had to make sure the rest of the world experienced it.

The next challenge was to find footage of this amazing journey, which ended up being a treasure hunt. CNN and other networks claimed to have no footage stored, further igniting her passion to make sure the story of Women of Liberia Peace Network as heard. Finally she met someone who had taken home videos of the development but had donated it to an NGO. The organization knew they had the footage but had not seen it in a long time. Ultimately, they found the tape with extensive water and sun damage, holding up a window Disney described how she felt like they had just pulled the story back from being lost in oblivion.

Disney believes that this film and Gbowee’s subsequent Peace Prize demonstrate how women are not helpless victims but invaluable social actors in own right and agents of change. She hopes that showing “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and the other four films of Women, War & Peace series will be beacons of hope for women in conflict zones that their voice is ready to be heard.

All five of the Women, War & Peace films are currently streaming online at www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace.

 

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