Some political documentaries suffer from overselling the urgency of their agenda, but director Gini Reticker’s Pray the Devil Back to Hell nicely underplays the significance of its subject—the 2003 nonviolent protest by thousands of Liberian women that brought down warlord president Charles Taylor. Focusing on interviews with several of the movement’s leaders, Reticker mixes in archival footage while explaining how these women, of both Christian and Muslim backgrounds, rallied to demand the end of the bloody civil war waged between Taylor’s regime (with its child armies) and the country’s rebel factions. On camera, the organizers are largely unremarkable, and Reticker smartly refrains from turning Devil into a canonization or (worse) a simplistic you-go-girl celebration of calm feminine strength trumping brutal masculine aggression. Instead, the film’s slightly dry detailing of the major incidents that led to Taylor’s eventual exile complements the protestors’ impassioned but unshowy resolve to build momentum for their shows of defiance. Reticker offers perhaps a too-narrow focus on this historical moment, but Pray the Devil remembers the golden rule of moviemaking—rather than tell, it shows, and what it shows is quietly affecting.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on November 5, 2008