Pray the Devil a powerful documentary
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Pray the Devil a powerful documentary
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Now Playing


Pray the Devil Back to Hell is a powerful documentary that got me thinking about, among other things, gender. This award-winning film by Abigail E. Disney and Gini Reticker takes a look at the essence of female power, the manifestation of the divine feminine and how that ethereal spirit stopped a futile war in the African nation of Liberia.

Some think gender is a culturally produced set of learned codes. Some think it's inextricably tied to physiology with gender specific bodily presentations tied to gender specific mental outlooks. I figure both theories come up short in explaining the subtleties of male and female and the many points on the continuum.

We in the Queer community wrestle with gender identity in ways few other communities ever consider. I myself am fully invested in disrupting the false gender binary at every turn. Still, when I see film like Pray the Devil Back to Hell, I am reminded that even though I am careful to embrace my Transgender siblings, there isn't anything on this earth quite as powerful as a woman who is fed up with her man.

Liberia is a nation in West Africa that was founded in the early 19th Century as a homeland for emancipated slaves. In the early '90s, the corrupt government of Charles Taylor found itself locked in a war with a loose coalition of violent warlords. Pray the Devil Back to Hell is the story of Leymah Gbowee, Etweda "Sugars" Cooper, Vaiba Flomo, Asatu Bah Kenneth, Etty Weah, Janet Johnson Bryant and their unlikely band of peaceful women, Christian and Muslim together, wearing white T-shirts and dignity and how they brought a regime to its knees, the warlords to their senses, and a bloody war to its end.

This is a movie about the power of women. It's also a movie about sacrifice and conviction. It's about a powerful force that welled up in the hearts of mothers tired of having their sons stolen and their daughters raped. They tired of having their homes ransacked and their livelihoods destroyed.

It's also a movie about the failure of patriarchal power. If the violence weren't so overwhelming, the men strutting around with guns and trucks would be comical. If the thought of turning little boys into killers weren't so appalling, I might have laughed at how those boys tried to act so grown-up for the camera. And if it didn't hit so close to home, Charles Taylor would look silly when he says God wanted him to be president. Unfortunately, this isn't a funny film. It is, however, a powerful one.

I loved the music and the ending is wonderfully empowering even if the journey is ugly. Check it out and see how the human spirit can prevail in the face of unimaginable horror. It's nice to know that's possible and it's nice to know there are genuine heroes out there. Pray the Devil Back to Hell is now playing at the Varsity Theater.

Contact the critic at scott@sgn.org.