30 January 2014
Pray the devil back to hell
Robyn Davidson is a Nomad Conversation / Anna Krien
Bart Houlahan thinks business can change the world Conversation / Mele-Ane Havea
Abigail Disneyâs 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 ânot very Disney path.â
Choosing philanthropy over celebrity, Abigail spends her time backing peacemaking initiatives. An âunapologetic feministâ, 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 itâs no wonder Abigailâs ears pricked up at the mention of the âwomen in whiteâ who had ended Liberiaâs war. The media hadnât reported on them during the crisisâmost footage was of the child soldiers. Everyone remembers seeing the âsmall boy unitsâ: 9- to 15-year- olds, swaggering, spraying their machine guns in villages. Drugged-up pubescents playing with their victimsâ 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. âMy children had been hungry and afraid their entire lives,â Leymah says, âWe were miserableâ.
Then it happened. âI had a dream. And it was like, a crazy dream.â Leymahâs 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 â¨a dream, brought together women from Monroviaâs Christian churches to pray for peace. They dressed â¨in white and sat prominently at the Fish Market. They decided to become the warmakersâ conscience. An adolescent soldier describes how the women were, always âcrying on usâ to stop.
They formed a coalition with Monroviaâs Muslim women,Â who joined the protest in white. They put their differences to bed with simple reasoning. âDoes the bullet know Christian from Muslim?â 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 didnât end there. âPeace is a process, itâs not an event,â Etweda âSugarsâ Cooper explains. The child soldiers refused to disarm to the UN. âFortunately for [the UN], the women were there,â says Cooper. âThey are our mothers,â a soldier puts it. âSo we listened to them.â
After all theyâd done, Leymah describes the election of President Sirleaf (backed by the women in white) as âthe icingâ.
After Pray the Devil Back to Hell was released, Leymah Gboweeâs effort was recognised and she won a Nobel prize.
As for Abigail Disney, she is now a filmmaker. âYou go away, and try to be as different as possible, then you find yourself right back where you started,â she muses.
âPeace is something you make, itâs a verb,â Abigail insists. Since making Pray the Devil, Abigailâs followed the wars, filming women in Bosnia, Columbia and Afghanistan. She wants to âlift up the voices of all the Leymahs out there. Because there are a lot of them out there.â
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.Â