Liberia is unlike most African countries, in that its past isn't marked by colonialism and ensuing strife. It was founded in 1822 by freed American slaves, and thus carries many vestiges of American culture, from a similar flag to gospel music. But Liberia is unfortunately like many other African countries, in that it has been torn apart in recent years by civil wars, ethnic strife, and unimaginable despots left to drive the country into the ground.
That's the state Liberia is in at the beginning of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a movie that documents the amazing women who helped bring their country out of despair and war. Directed ably and passionately by Gini Reticker, Pray the Devil uses interviews with the women involved as well as limited archival footage to make a powerful argument for everyday strength and resistance.
Fed up with their corrupt President, Charles Taylor, as well as the violent guerillas who opposed him, a group of Christian and Muslim women joined forces in 2003 to demand peace. Armed with nothing but white T-shirts and their formidable numbers, the women convened every day at a fish market to get Taylor's attention, withheld sex from the men in their lives and encouraged the rebels to disarm. Eventually, when peace talks began in Ghana, the women literally blocked the men in the debate hall until they brokered a peaceful deal. After ousting Taylor to exile in Nigeria, Liberia elected the continent's first female president, a move most acknowledge would not have been possible without the activist women.
The star of the show is Leymah Gbowee, a social worker and mother who became the official group organizer, and went so far as to threaten to strip during the peace talks, considered a curse upon the men who would see her. At one point she presents the women's demands to Taylor, as he sits and listens on a gilded sofa; as she says they are tired of seeing their children raped and killed, and of begging for food, the tremulous passion in her voice speaks volumes about the country's years of pain. Other women interviewed, including a Liberian peace officer, also speak powerfully about the horrors they have witnessed, as well as their determination not to stop until peace was achieved.
Clocking in at just 73 minutes, Pray the Devil is an economically told, extremely powerful story, a bolt of inspiration in what remain dark times for the entire world.