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Liberian journalist brings message of peace with documentary

Published: October 23, 2009
Section: Arts, Etc.

“Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” presented as part of the Brandeis Social Justice Leadership Service, is a touching documentary about a group of women who made a difference in Liberia during a tumultuous civil war. A question and answer session followed the viewing with Janet Johnson Bryant, a Liberian journalist who helped create the film.

“Pray the Devil Back to Hell” follows the story of thousands of Liberian women, both Christian and Muslim, who came together to pray for peace at a crucial time in their country’s history.

In 1999, the second Liberian civil war in only a decade began after the democratic election of warlord Charles Taylor.

Janet Johnson Bryant was living in Liberia and working at a radio station in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, at the time. Part of her job was to report on the policies of Taylor. It was while reporting a story that she met Leymah Gwobee.

Gwobee was a primary leader of Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), and was a key figure in starting Liberian Mass Action for Peace.

“We are tired of war,” Gwobee said to explain her groups’ purpose. “We are tired of running, we are tired of our children being raped.”

These remarkable women eventually managed to force Taylor into peace talks in Ghana with Liberian rebels. Soon, when those peace talks stalled, violence in Liberia increased, and the 200 Liberian women who had gone to Ghana managed to get them going again.

The film explores many themes, including that of the power of women when it comes to creating peace.

Traditional gender roles portray women as passive and impotent in the face of war and politics, but the women of Liberia struggle to prove otherwise.

When asked if the world would be better if women ran it, Liberia’s president, and the first female president of an African nation, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, said very simply that it would be “a better, safer, and more productive world. A woman would bring an extra dimension to that task – and that’s a sensitivity to humankind.”

Bryant reinforced another of the main themes of the documentary, the power of fighting for justice against seemingly insurmountable odds, and she said, “It is better for you to do something and die in the process, rather than sit back and die anyway.”

“There are no local wars anymore. There are all our wars. We are all connected. This is our problem, not something far away,” Mari Fitzduff said as she wrapped up the presentation.

Fitzduff is the chair of the advisory board of Coexistence International, a Brandeis program that supports the work of civil society. Coexistence International presented the film along with the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism and the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life.