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MOVIE REVIEW

Making peace, a T-shirt at a time

November 14, 2008|Kenneth Turan | Movie Critic

"Pray the Devil Back to Hell" is the story of how an entire country went from madness to sanity, prodded by women who would not be denied. It's a marvelous documentary detailing how the everyday became extraordinary, "how ordinary women," in the words of one of them, "did the unimaginable."

As directed by Gini Reticker and produced by Abigail E. Disney, "Pray the Devil" uses its brief 72 minutes to tell one of the truly heartening international political stories of recent years.

The nation in question is Liberia, a country that by the year 2002 had seen some 200,000 people die in ongoing fighting centering on dictatorial President Charles Taylor and the various rebels who wanted to replace him.

Making adroit use of interviews and newsreel footage about the country's notorious child soldiers and its other ills, "Pray the Devil" forcefully makes the point that the fighting had become an end in itself, with different sides jousting endlessly over what one woman characterizes as "power, money, ethnicity, greed."

Leymah Gbowee, for one, had had enough. An articulate, thoughtful social worker, she simply says, "I had a dream. I would get the women of my church together and pray for peace."

Inspired by this, Asatu Bah Kenneth, a Muslim woman who was president of the Liberia Female Law Enforcement Assn., decided to join the movement, a situation that eventually marked the first time the Muslim and Christian faiths had worked together in Liberia. Their message, said Gbowee, was simple, "We want peace, no more war. We are tired of suffering, tired of running."

Not only was their message simple, so were, at first, their tactics. The women put on plain clothes, topped by a white T-shirt with a logo, and sat daily in Monrovia's central market in hopes of gaining an audience with President Taylor and persuading him to attend peace talks.

Compellingly put together, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" tells the story of how, from these humble beginnings, this large group of women went from strength to strength and gradually changed the direction of the country, even going so far as to attend peace talks in Ghana and to force the opposing parties to stay at the table.

The tasks were not always easy and the road to take was not always clear, but the women persevered so successfully that today the war and fighting are over and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is the popularly elected president.

"With this T-shirt, I am very powerful," one woman says, with another adding, "If things ever get bad again, we would be back."

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kenneth.turan@latimes.com

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'Pray the Devil Back to Hell'

MPAA rating: Unrated

Running time: 1 hour, 12 minutes

Playing: At Laemmle's Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 274-6869

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