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September 12, 2009

Get Involved in the Global Peace Tour

In 2003, a small group of Liberian women banded together to demand peace in their country that had been devastated by years of war with no end in sight. What started as a small nonviolent protest finally led to the election of Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In 2006, producer Abigail Disney decided to make a film—Pray the Devil Back to Hell—about these women and their extraordinary courage. As the film embarks on the Global Peace Tour in conjunction with the United Nation’s International Day of Peace on September 21st, we asked Disney to tell us why this issue is still so important.

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Q: Why did you decide to make this film?
I’ve always been interested in women’s political leadership and the Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was really exciting. So I went with a group to Liberia to see if we could be supportive of her. While I was there, I heard the story of these Liberian women and didn’t believe it. So I started asking around and the more I asked not only did the story hold up, but there was more to it and it was compelling. But it was horrifying to me that I had never heard of these women and knew that it was going to be forgotten. Knowing something creates a debt in you—an obligation. I was in a position to make sure their story was honored.

Q: Why do you think these women were so successful?
Their success came from their own smarts. They had a meeting at the end of everyday to say what worked, what didn’t work, what they should do better tomorrow. Many of them were illiterate, hadn’t gone to college, hadn’t finished high school and that had no impact on the fact that they had an enormous amount of intelligence to bring to this—they were incredibly strategic.

Q: The images in the film are very gripping. Since you didn’t put this project together until several years after it happened, where did you get the footage?
That’s a whole story on its own! You can almost make a documentary about how we made this documentary because by definition, these women were not in the frame. The politics of power is that it’s the important people: the presidents and the generals get together and the warlords shoot their way into the peace talks. These women gathered and deliberately dressed, acted, and talked like regular ordinary women. And as a result of that they weren’t taken very seriously. That was why they had so much power at the end of the day because they were really drawing on the voice of regular people. But it was also an enormous barrier because the news media paid no attention to them whatsoever. And even though they surrounded the peace talks—CNN was there, Sky News was there, ABC was there—there’s no archival footage of these women. None. So we really scrambled and we were pretty scrappy. We found private individuals from Liberia and Guinea who happened to have video cameras.

Q: What lesson can be learned from the fact that they were left out of major news coverage?
We really need to stop and think about who isn’t making it into our 6-o’clock news broadcast and who is not being seen in wartime. War crushes and destroys everybody and then destroys infrastructure, farmland, tradition, and culture. And the most important people are the people who are being destroyed—not the handful of sociopaths who are conducting the mayhem. So the fact that they’re left out is upside down and it became really important to us to invert that and set it right.

Q: Who has seen this documentary?
We’ve done our best to get the film seen in places where people really have an effect on these processes. It’s been seen around the world by women who have either been through conflict or their countries are heading into conflict. Its first audience, in fact, was in Bosnia and it’s been shown to indigenous women from all over South America, Cambodia, and Indonesia. It was shown at the World Economic Forum in Davos—it’s the first film they’ve ever shown. We want to help any future women get a leg up on being taken seriously because that’s really the biggest barrier for them. And we want to show that people do change things, history can be affected, and you make a difference.

Q: What is the Global Peace Tour?
We’ve coordinated a set of global community screenings all over the world on September 21st—the UN International Day of Peace—so that the ladies in Peoria are sitting in a dark room watching the same movie that the ladies in the Congo are watching. And then we’re going to encourage people to come on Facebook, Twitter, and our website to talk about the documentary and what they learned from it so that we can start a conversation about peace.

To find a screening in your area or to set up your own on September 21st, visit praythedevilbacktohell.com

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