And now for the backstory…


The hope for the future outside the UN building

Yesterday afternoon, I attended a screening of the PBS documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” which focused on the Liberian women’s non-violent resistance to their country’s civil war – Leymah Gbowee was the one who organized the protest and won the most recent Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts – and the idea that women really need to be at the table both in bringing war to a close AND during the peace negotiations.

The documentary was directed by Abigail Disney, great-niece to Walt Disney, who is a philanthropist and documentary filmmaker who focuses mostly on women, war and peace.

I had seen the documentary before but went because she was going to speak. I really didn’t want to like her. Here she is this white woman from NYC, living in one of the richest countries in the world, finding out about the Liberian story only because of her connections and a trip she took there. She smacks of privilege and I didn’t  really want to believe she wasn’t in it for something other than the money and fame.

But someone has to tell the story. According to her, no one else was doing it.

Journalists were there, they talked to the women (of Liberia), learned what they did, and did not think it important enough to actually tell the women’s story.

From that first film came the four other films in the Women, War and Peace series which focus on Bosnia, Columbia, Afghanistan and an overarching film called “War Redefined” which speaks to the changing face of war.

After the screening, Abigail spoke about the film and her experience. One of the big points she made was that it didn’t matter what the war was about,

we’re shooting at each other and it’s stupid – bottom line.

The whole idea behind the changing face of war is that it’s not being fought on some battlefield, it’s house to house, neighbor to neighbor – and it affects women and children most of all. While they may not be directly shooting the weapons, women are the ones left to pick up the pieces of their lives once their bothers, sons, fathers and husbands are dead or missing. Women are the ones that have to reintegrate their “child soldiers” back into the community once the fighting is done. Women are responsible for holding their families together when the entire world they know has gone crazy.

Abigail blames the military industrial complex turned military private equity complex for making war profitable.

There is not enough serious attention being paid to the above-board legitimate sale of weapons which then leads to below board illegitimate (excess) weapons trade.

A familiar theme surrounding talks of war and peace is that weapons don’t have an expiration date.

Weapons come from all over. (There are currently) 870 million weapons in circulation and enough bullets to kill everyone around the world twice. And yet, we still make 8 million new weapons a year.

One of the final points Abigail made, and one that came up a lot during my years of Women’s Studies schooling, is the complicity of popular culture in creating a “culture of war.”

The Hollywood industrial complex that sells a type of masculinity is culpable when they sell films around the world that show war as a strategy of masculinity.

Now let’s put on my feminist-colored glasses for a moment:

I did appreciate that Abigail made no bones about speaking from an American point of view – at least she was transparent. But I wish that there had been someone other than an American both on the panel and directing the documentary because I don’t believe we got a true perspective on what’s really going on.

And although she wants to believe there are overarching themes to war, I think you have to break down why folks are engaging in war in the first place.

It trivializes women’s participation by saying “all wars are stupid, let’s stop them” because it’s almost like saying “women don’t need to (or can’t) understand the complex reasons behind why men go to war.” And it’s ignoring the fact that in some countries (coughcoughAmericacoughcough) women also go to war.

So while on one had I think it’s important to highlight women’s participation in the peace process, on the other I am skeptical that making a documentary (or five) really advances any understanding or critical dialogue.

And in the end, that’s what’s really needed.


2 responses »

  1. This is a pretty sweeping dismissal of a preety unusual series of documentaries on women. The one I like the most is ‘I came to testify’: about Bosnian rape victims having the courage to testify before a special court in the Hague. What I liked was that 1) law is finally catching up with the rapists, and 2) the prosecutor and lawyers were all women. Very sharp women. They cut the guys down to size.

    • I like the documentaries, I just wish they had been done differently. I absolutely think that a story had to be told and I’m glad someone did, I guess I’m just always wary when it’s American doing the telling. Sort of like if someone from Zimbabwe tried to tell the story of 9/11.

      Anyhow, most of this blog was a critique of Abigail Disney, not of the women in the documentary. And even the, I wasn’t upset with her so much as I was frustrated with the idea that (once again) Americans can tell a story better than the folks living the experience.

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