Abigail Disney Brings Perspective on Role of Women in Liberian Civil War

Abigail Disney, women’s rights activist and renowned filmmaker, spoke at Andover about her award-winning documentary, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which focuses on the thousands of ordinary Liberian women who peacefully united their country after a 14-year civil war.

“I felt a personal obligation, a debt to these women in Liberia, to tell their story and let the rest of the world know their struggles and achievements,” said Disney during her presentation.

During the Liberian civil war, Muslim and Christian women of Liberia overcame their differences in religious beliefs and sat together outside the Presidential Palace in a silent protest against violent warlords and the corrupt regime of Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president, said Disney.

Dressed in identical white T-shirts, the women prayed, fasted and sang every day until Taylor promised that he would attend the peace talks in Ghana to negotiate with the rebels, said Disney.

“It was an extraordinary thing, what these women of Liberia were able to achieve. If there was a textbook of nonviolent resistance, this event would be in it,” said Disney.

“There was a low-power group and a high-power group, but the low-power group had moral authority and, with the cards just played the right way, reached some sense of shame at the center of the high-power group to make the hierarchy come crashing down,” she continued in the presentation.

Disney first visited Liberia in 2006 when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected the first female Head of State in Africa after decades of violent civil war.

“I had never been to a place so fresh out of combat like Liberia, and I went on this trip with nothing more noble than mere curiosity. I had no idea what people had done for this peace to be established, but once I had pieced together this extraordinary story of these women in Liberia, this little voice in the back of my head kept saying that more people should know,” said Disney in the presentation. Since its launch in 2008, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” has won numerous awards, including Best Documentary at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Disney has since travelled to over 30 countries to show her documentary to a variety of audiences, including other groups of female activists engaged in similar war struggles.

Women’s Forum hosted Abigail Disney’s visit.

Madeline Lippey ’14, Co-Head of Women’s Forum, said, “I think that we, as teenagers, are exposed to a lot of different kinds of media, and it is up to us to decide whether it has a positive or negative impact on our lives. I thought that Ms. Disney’s films would show that we can channel the media in a positive light in order to make a change.”

“I thought that it was especially vital to point out how many stories are going unread and unnoticed, not just with women, though gender may have something to do with many of them,” said Faris Peale ’14, Co-Head of Women’s Forum.

“All of us are just beginning to form an idea of who we want to be and what we want to do. Speakers like Abigail provide examples of how to use connections or an excellent education to do something more valuable,” she continued.

In addition to producing three other documentaries besides “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” Disney started an organization called “Peace is Loud,” which aims to amplify the voices of women in support of peacebuilding through social media.

Disney is the granddaughter of Roy Disney, who co-founded The Walt Disney Company with his brother, Walt Disney.