'Black Crows' TV drama exposes life under ISIS

By Nohad Topalian in Beirut

Syrian actress Dima al-Jundi plays the role of an 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' element in the popular Ramadan series 'Black Crows', which depicts life under the group. [Photo courtesy of MBC Group]

Syrian actress Dima al-Jundi plays the role of an 'Islamic State of Iraq and Syria' element in the popular Ramadan series 'Black Crows', which depicts life under the group. [Photo courtesy of MBC Group]

As part of its Ramadan programming, satellite channel MBC is airing "Black Crows" (Gharabib Sud), a TV drama which over the course of 30 episodes lays bare the reality of life under the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS).

The show stars actors from Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, Tunisia and Lebanon.

According to the MBC Group, the show reveals what life is really like under ISIS in areas under the group's control, and is narrated by people who experienced its incursion and occupation first-hand.

It casts light on how ISIS communicates with young men and women in Arab and Western societies and the methods it uses to penetrate their minds.

The drama also exposes the group's deviance, crimes and brutal methods of repression, its criminality and the way it deals with its own members and its new recruits, including women and children.

Black Crows focuses intensively on the women who join the group, how they are forced to engage in "sex jihad", and how ISIS sends children and young men to their deaths with fatwas tailored to fit the views of the group’s leaders and serve their aims.

MBC Group spokesman Mazen Hayek told Al-Mashareq that Black Crows is "the first drama series of its kind that confronts the scourge of terrorism".

The series is "based on our commitment to highlight issues that concern and impact our societies and pose a threat to them, as is the case with ISIS," he said.

"The main focus of the work is on the role of women within the ISIS terror network, by spotlighting the women's brigades and sex jihad, as they are the most vulnerable and abused component, as are the children," he said.

Hayek said the show's screenwriter "depicted factual experiences related to him in meetings with people who were recruited, raped and violated, and families who were able to get their children back".

The screenwriter wove a plot that is very close to reality, he said, while the directors portrayed the group's true face, "and its media, the tools with which it works and its chain of command".

The message will reach its intended recipients, Hayek added, "because it is aired on MBC1 and MBC Masr [Egypt], which have the highest viewership ratings during Ramadan".

A cruel and unstable character

Syrian actress Dima al-Jundi plays the role of a commander of ISIS’s al-Khansaa female brigade, who is in charge of al-hesba ("religious police") battalion.

She describes her character, who is "responsible for recruiting women and training them on the use of weapons and carrying out suicide operations", as "psychologically unstable and emotionless".

She is also "cruel, foolish and does not have an iota of kindness, or compassion", al-Jundi told Al-Mashareq.

Al-Jundi said she researched her character before playing the role, which is based on the story of a Tunisian woman who married an ISIS leader in Iraq and moved with him to al-Raqa, where she was killed three years ago.

"I summoned all the evil inside me and used it to embody the al-Khansaa character, because I have never played such a role before," she said.

She said she agreed to play the role because "I felt that as a Syrian I have a duty to be involved" as ISIS has a tight grip on parts of her homeland.

Filming 'affected us psychologically'

Tunisian actress Fatima Nasser plays the role of Malika, a Tunisian woman who has migrated to Europe.

In the series, Malika meets ISIS emir Abu Talha, falls in love with him and moves to live with the group. She goes through many experiences with him, but does not get directly involved in the group's policies.

Before she got involved in the production, Nasser said that she, "like others, used to hear that women played a major role in ISIS’s state".

"But then I experienced that environment for myself, as the series was filmed at a camp similar to the camps we see on television, with actors who look very much like ISIS elements," Nasser told Al-Mashareq.

The atmosphere during the filming "affected us psychologically", she said, "and this made me wonder…how about those who joined the ISIS terrorist group of their own free will and were brainwashed?"

"There is no doubt that there are those who discovered they made the wrong decision to join ISIS, but leaving it is almost impossible, because that means death," she said.

Egyptian actress Samar Allam plays the role of an Egyptian Christian journalist engaged to a man who went undercover and joined ISIS to report a story.

"However, he gets brainwashed and returns and blows up the newspaper, killing everyone except my character," she said.

Allam said it is important that "the viewer become aware that no one has the right to intimidate others under a slogan or [the guise of] religion, and that any human being has the right to live in dignity regardless of his religion or beliefs".

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