Abigail E. Disney, Producer of Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008 Best Documentary, Tribeca) and co-creator of the acclaimed PBS series Women, War & Peace, shares her experience of documenting the lives of remarkable Liberian women, including Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee.
Pray the Devil Back to Hell airs on PBS, Tomorrow, Tuesday, October 18th. (Check Local Listings.)
The first time I went to Liberia, a woman told me a story about her 10-year old son. It literally took the wind out of me. She didn’t know that my son, Henry, was also ten years old at the time.
During the war in Liberia, if you were 10-years old and male, you were ‘eligible’ to fight. She told me of a day the family had to leave the house during the heart of the conflict. She had instructed her son to ‘be invisible,’ and not acknowledge anyone once outside. It was common for child soldiers to shout out to their friends, confirming their identity and age, and prompting military leaders to enlist them.
She knew the harsh reality of a child soldier – as victims and trained victimizers. He was just a boy. He was just 10-years old. But when a fellow classmate with a familiar voice called out his name, he did as any child would do and turned his head.
In that moment, the hair on my arms tickled all the way up to my neck. I could suddenly feel my stomach. I couldn’t help but think of Henry. As a mother of four, I don’t know how to react any other way. She was able to talk her way out of his recruitment, claiming he was only nine.
This time. There were so many mothers who didn’t even get the chance to negotiate.
This story is at the heart of Pray the Devil Back to Hell – women standing up, in the face of fear, to protect the lives of those around them. It is the story of Leymah Gbowee, recent winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, and her leadership in building peace where no one thought it possible. But “Pray” is foremost the story of thousands of women – ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts and daughters, both Christian and Muslim – forming a thin but resilient line of opposition. They took on warlords in the midst of a brutal civil war and won a once unimaginable peace for their shattered country. They changed the regime of dictator Charles Taylor, culminating in Taylor’s exile and the rise of Africa’s first female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
These moments of strength – both big and small – are what we want you to notice when you watch Pray the Devil Back to Hell. In one memorable scene you see the women barricade the site of stalled peace talks in Ghana, refusing to move until a deal is done. Other moments are more discreet. When soldiers come to a refugee camp the camera shows us a quick glimpse of a mother instinctually taking her arm to hide her small daughter behind her body. By keeping her out of sight, she is keeping her safe.
As Leymah says, this series is the series of myth-busting. Women are not victims in war. Women are survivors. They are sources of strength and leadership in the midst of war. Ultimately this series seeks through powerful storytelling to expand our understanding of women in conflict zones.
More on Women, War & Peace: www.womenwarandpeace.org
Watch the Trailer for Pray the Devil Back to Hell: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/women-war-and-peace/features/pray-the-devil-back-to-hell/
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