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 Africas first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In 2006, producer Abigail Disney decided to make a filmPray the Devil Back to Hellabout these women and their extraordinary courage. As the film embarks on the Global Peace Tour in conjunction with the United Nations International Day of Peace on September 21st, we asked Disney to tell us why this issue is still so important.
By Jihan Thompson
Q: Why did you decide to make this film?
A: Ive always been interested in womens 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 didnt 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 youan obligation. I was in a position to make sure their story was honored.
Q: Why do you think these women were so successful?
A: Their success came from their own smarts. They had a meeting at the end of everyday to say what worked, what didnt work, what they should do better tomorrow. Many of them were illiterate, hadnt gone to college, hadnt finished high school and that had no impact on the fact that they had an enormous amount of intelligence to bring to thisthey were incredibly strategic.
Q: The images in the film are very gripping. Since you didnt put this project together until several years after it happened, where did you get the footage?
A: Thats 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 its 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 werent 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 talksCNN was there, Sky News was there, ABC was theretheres 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?
A: We really need to stop and think about who isnt making it into our 6-oclock 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 destroyednot the handful of sociopaths who are conducting the mayhem. So the fact that theyre 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?
A: Weve done our best to get the film seen in places where people really have an effect on these processes. Its 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 its been shown to indigenous women from all over South America, Cambodia, and Indonesia. It was shown at the World Economic Forum in Davosits the first film theyve ever shown. We want to help any future women get a leg up on being taken seriously because thats 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?
A: Weve coordinated a set of global community screenings all over the world on September 21stthe UN International Day of Peaceso 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 were 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