Abigail Disney’s great uncle was Walt. Roy E. was her father. Which makes Abigail Hollywood royalty. But her obsession with war has taken her down what she describes as a ‘not very Disney path.’

Choosing philanthropy over celebrity, Abigail spends her time backing peacemaking initiatives. An ‘unapologetic feminist’, she thinks strengthening women will eventually strengthen the world.

So, it comes as no surprise that Abigail Disney flew over to war-ravaged Liberia to offer assistance to the first-ever African female head of state, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

And it’s no wonder Abigail’s ears pricked up at the mention of the ‘women in white’ who had ended Liberia’s war. The media hadn’t reported on them during the crisis—most footage was of the child soldiers. Everyone remembers seeing the ‘small boy units’: 9- to 15-year- olds, swaggering, spraying their machine guns in villages. Drugged-up pubescents playing with their victims’ skulls, cackling childishly.

But fighting against those boys were women in white, and everyone in Liberia knew about them. Tidbits of their story leaked out wherever Abigail went.

Abigail found Leymah Gbowee, leader of the women. “My children had been hungry and afraid their entire lives,” Leymah says, “We were miserable”.

Then it happened. “I had a dream. And it was like, a crazy dream.” Leymah’s dream involved nothing less than a plan to end the war.

And Abigail Disney happens to come from a line of people who are interested in dreams come true. So, after decades of resisting, Abigail Disney picked up a camera. She and director Gini Reticker made Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

The documentery tells of how Leymah, following 
a dream, brought together women from Monrovia’s Christian churches to pray for peace. They dressed 
in white and sat prominently at the Fish Market. They decided to become the warmakers’ conscience. An adolescent soldier describes how the women were, always “crying on us” to stop.

They formed a coalition with Monrovia’s Muslim women, who joined the protest in white. They put their differences to bed with simple reasoning. “Does the bullet know Christian from Muslim?” asks Vaiba Flomo, one of the women.

The Christian women put pressure on the priests, who were respected by President Taylor. And the Muslim women pressured the imams, the spiritual leaders of the warlords who had been tearing through the countryside, beheading and raping.

Relentlessly, the women hassled the warmakers. Finally, the men agreed to peace talks. They flew to Ghana, the women in white on their tails. When an agreement was not reached, the women barricaded the building, and forced the men to sign an agreement.

It didn’t end there. “Peace is a process, it’s not an event,” Etweda ‘Sugars’ Cooper explains. The child soldiers refused to disarm to the UN. “Fortunately for [the UN], the women were there,” says Cooper. “They are our mothers,” a soldier puts it. “So we listened to them.”

After all they’d done, Leymah describes the election of President Sirleaf (backed by the women in white) as ‘the icing’.

After Pray the Devil Back to Hell was released, Leymah Gbowee’s effort was recognised and she won a Nobel prize.

As for Abigail Disney, she is now a filmmaker. “You go away, and try to be as different as possible, then you find yourself right back where you started,” she muses.

“Peace is something you make, it’s a verb,” Abigail insists. Since making Pray the Devil, Abigail’s followed the wars, filming women in Bosnia, Columbia and Afghanistan. She wants to “lift up the voices of all the Leymahs out there. Because there are a lot of them out there.”

 

Pray the Devil Back to Hell is available in Australia through Heritage Distribution. Leymah Gbowee has published a memoir called Mighty Be Our Powers (published by Beat Books).

Abigail has made a series entitled Women, War & Peace, which includes Pray the Devil Back to Hell and four other films from around the world.