On Tuesday, the Jackson Institute of Global Affairs hosted a screening of the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” accompanied by a Q&A session with director Gini Reticker.
The film follows the story of the Liberian women’s peace movement, “Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace,” which brought together women from Liberia’s capital, Monrovia. The women came together under the leadership of Leymah Gwobee, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts, to engage in nonviolent protest against atrocities and violence occurring as a result of the country’s second civil war, which took place between 1999 and 2003. The group’s initiatives included a demand for a resolution to the civil war, which was ultimately successful. Reticker said that after meeting Gwobee, she decided to share with the world the story of the group’s struggle for peace by producing the documentary, which premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival and won the prize for Best Documentary Feature.
“Women are not always victims, they also have agency,” Reticker said. “These women were ready to share their story.”
“Pray the Devil Back to Hell” includes scenes of Liberian women engaged in nonviolent protest, donning white shirts and carrying signs with demands for immediate peace. With time, Reticker said, increasing numbers of women joined, until ultimately the movement caught the attention of Liberia’s dictator, Charles Taylor, as well as the eyes of the international community.
Rosemary DiCarlo, a senior fellow of the Jackson Institute and former U.S. deputy permanent representative at the United Nations, explained that the institute decided to show the film as a way of celebrating women who play positive roles in resolving conflicts. During her time at the United Nations, DiCarlo added, the movie was screened as a way of showing women that they can change the world. It was for the same reason, she noted, that she had hoped to screen the film at Yale.
Reticker said that she became involved with the project of documenting the story of “Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace” in December 2006, three years after the end of the country’s second civil war. In May 2007, a film crew was sent to Liberia, Reticker noted. She added, however, that in order for “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” to accurately portray the violence of the civil war — as well as the dedication of the Liberian women’s peace initiative — she needed actual footage from the war.
“I spent weeks looking at war footage to extract footage of the women protesters,” Reticker explained, adding that she also received clips from Charles Taylor’s videographer, taken while Taylor was still president of Liberia.
Míriam Juan-Torres GRD ’16, who attended the screening, said she thinks it is important for such powerful movies to be shown, in order to convey the message that women are not just victims or mothers, but can occupy positions of power as well.
Another event attendee, Esther Soma ’16, noted that the movie’s celebration of the Liberian women’s agency reminded her of her own strength as a woman. Soma added that she identified with the film’s characters, and that she appreciated how the movie conveys a message about the power of change that can be applied to her native country of South Sudan.
“Pride in my blackness and in my womanhood is what I felt as I watched ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell,’” Soma explained. “As tears rolled down my cheeks at different points in the film, I was reminded of the strength of my people who so often are portrayed as victims of war but this film portrayed them as agents of peace.”
Reticker’s newest documentary focuses on the story of another three women, this time during the violent conflicts of the Arab Spring.