African Queens

Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Running time 72 minutes
Directed by Gini Reticker
Starring Janet Johnson Bryant, Etweda Cooper, Vaiba Flomo, Leyma Gbowee

Gini Reticker’s Pray the Devil Back to Hell, produced by Abigail Disney, tells the little known story in the West of a small band of Liberian women who formed a church-led Peace Now Movement that eventually toppled ruthless dictator Charles Taylor from power, as well as the Liberian warlords who temporarily succeeded Taylor with a similar brand of brutal tyranny and corrupt exploitation of Liberia’s natural resources. In the process, Liberia gained free elections under the protection of a United Nations Peacekeeping Force, and chose Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first female head of state in modern Africa’s history.

It was something of a miracle that this film was made at all in the midst of a civil war, with gut-wrenching images of the toll taken on civilians, especially women and children. Credit should go to the production team assembled by Ms. Reticker and Ms. Disney, as well as to the unflagging bravery of many women in and out of Liberia.

One fascinating aspect of the Liberian Peace Movement was the newfound unity of women, both Christian and Muslim, in a common cause. Much remains to be done, of course, to repair and rebuild the society and economy of Liberia from decades of turmoil. Still, as of 2008, a tentative beginning has been made in what now emerges as one of the very few political crises in the world that’s on the path to an eventual solution with a modicum of fairness and justice for all.

Even though the film is inescapably fragmented and catch-as-catch-can as cinema, its heart is pure and infinitely compassionate. It deserves to be seen by all who yearn for a world of peace and freedom, and a measure of economic justice and opportunity. Not so long ago, Liberia was a hopeless basket case, and now thanks to a hitherto unheralded army of women volunteers, there is hope, at least in Liberia.

asarris@observer.com

African Queens