Photo: Gabrielle Revere
Despite Gbowee's initial lack of enthusiasm, the filmmakers threw themselves into their project. They had discovered that established news sources had very little footage of WIPNET at work, and this scarcity helped shape their vision of the film. "We realized that there was a reason for that, right?" says Disney, a 48-year-old mother of four. "The women had been defined out of the frame. So we decided to put them back where they belonged."
Their persistence was rewarded. Gbowee grudgingly agreed to set up interviews with other women from wipnet and—a crucial victory—to sit for the camera herself. She gradually went from reluctant participant to charismatic star, and the project took off. Pray the Devil Back to Hell—a surprisingly hopeful mix of eyewitness accounts, archival news footage, and home video of key events—premiered in New York in April.
Four months before the premiere, a key clip landed on the filmmakers' desk: handheld footage of the day, in 2003, when Gbowee confronted President Charles Taylor himself. It was an official event—WIPNET handing over a signed resolution calling for peace; that the women had gotten Taylor there, that their constant presence had gotten his attention at all (as they chanted and sang every day, through monsoons and heat waves, in a field that Taylor passed on his way to work), was stunning. Taylor had been arguably the most feared warlord in Africa, and his cold-bloodedness hadn't diminished with his rise to the presidency. Now he sat several yards away on a gilt sofa decorated with the official seal of Liberia. The dais on which Gbowee stood was turned toward the audience, but she turned to face Taylor instead. She spoke in the controlled cadence of diplomacy, but the fury behind her words was unmistakable:
"We ask the honorable pro tem of the senate...to kindly present this statement to his excellency Dr. Charles Taylor with this message: that the women of Liberia, including the IDPs...are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand to secure the future of our children because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, 'Mama, what was your role during the crisis?' Kindly convey this to the president of Liberia. Thank you."
We Hear You!