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Liberian Liberation: Juniata PACS Program Hosts Screening of Documentary

(Posted September 28, 2009)

Protesting in front of UN Envoy at Mamba Point in Monrovia, Liberia in this still from "Praying the Devil Back to Hell."

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- The stoic bravery of women in Liberia, whose protest of a brutal civil war brought a shaky peace to the war-ravaged African nation, is the subject of a documentary film, "Praying the Devil Back to Hell," at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 6 at Neff Lecture Hall in the von Liebig Center for Science on the Juniata College campus.

The film is free and open to the public. The documentary film showing is sponsored by the Baker Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies.

"Pray the Devil Back to Hell" centers its story on an activist group of Liberian women who took a stand during Liberia's bloody civil war between the corrupt national government of former Liberian president Charles Taylor and rebel warlords seeking to overthrow the government for their own gain.

As rebel forces closed in on the capital city of Monrovia a group of Christian and Muslim women, wearing white T-shirts over their traditional wardrobe, started a protest demanding that both sides take part in serious peace talks.

The women even traveled to Ghana, where peace talks were being held, and announced they would not move until a truce and peace treaty had been completed. Ghanaian officials tried to evict them and the women practiced brinksmanship of their own by threatening to remove their clothes if talks did not continue.

The protests and eventual peace programs climaxed with the resignation and exile of Charles Taylor and the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia's president and Africa's first female head of state.

Liberia was started as a colony for American slaves and freedmen as the American Colonization Society encouraged free persons of color to settle in Africa. In 1822 a group of African-Americans settled in an area they called Liberia. In 1847, the settlement proclaimed itself the Republic of Liberia.

Liberia's coastal settlements were populated by citizens of American origin. The resident Africans were treated as though they were under colonial rule. By the 1920s, foreign investment, particularly by the Firestone Company's rubber plantations, brought more money to the ruling elites of the country.

Pressures from other factions eventually led to a coup, overthrowing the government in 1980. Brutal repression followed, resulting in a civil war lasting from 1989 to 2003.

"Pray the Devil Back to Hell" is directed by Gini Reticker, who directed the Oscar-nominated short "Asylum" and "A Decade Under the Influence," which was nominated for an Emmy. She also directed "Ladies First," a documentary about women's roles in rebuilding Rwanda, and worked as an editor on such films as "Roger & Me," and "The Awful Truth: The Romantic Comedy."

The film is produced by Abigail Disney, co-founder and co-president of the Daphne Foundation, a nonprofit foundation that makes grants to community-based organizations specializing in women's rights, AIDS advocacy, children's health, labor conditions and community organizing. She also serves on the boards of the Roy Disney Family Foundation, the White House Project, the Global Fund for Women and the Fund for the City of New York.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.