Black Harvest to screen first “Chiraq” TV episode

The hour-long pilot for the TV series “This is Not Chiraq,” from creator William D. Pierce and directed by the team of Darryl Manuel and Philip Lee of Spin Artists, will screen at the sold-out Black Harvest Film Festival, Aug. 24 at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

The Chicago-set TV series centers on the leaders of the African American Black Hustlers gang and the Latino Spanish Angels gang, who fight over control of their racially divided and gun-violent South Side neighborhood and the friendship between their respective teen son and daughter.

Actors Eric Lane (“Chicago PD”) as Marshawn and Jose Santiago (“Chicago Fire”) star as Diablo, the black and Latino gang leaders, respectively. Also starring are Jacqueline Francine as Diablo’s girlfriend; Simeon Henderson (“Caught Up”), Marshawn’s policeman brother and Michelle Shelton Huff (“Boss”) as Mason’s mother and Luisa Riveria (“Chicago Fire”) as Diablo’s mother. Terry Bell and Hannah Bonecutter play the teen nephew and niece of the gang leaders.

Pierce, of Independent Network Television, had been working on his series for a year, in 2014, when producer/director Manuel and director / editor Lee agreed to direct the first season. In April, 2015, Spike Lee rolled into Chicago to produce his $15 million “Chiraq” satirical take on ancient Greek Aristophanes’ play “Lysistrada.”

“At first we were worried that our two stories would be similar, but they were totally different,” says Philip Lee.

Beginning in August, 2015, Manuel and Lee, working non-union on a low budget funded by a private investor, shot four of the series’ proposed eight-episode series over 30 days in some of the city’s most dangerous gang-infested neighborhoods.

The crew of 35 included Columbia College and Tribeca Flashpoint film students and recent graduates and gang members.

“As artists looking at how our community had to deal with gang violence and police brutality,” says Philip Lee, “we felt this TV series had the potential to give the people trapped in that situation a voice.”

Adds Manuel, “We also felt it was important to show that there are good officers on the police force, who work to make a difference, as well as those few who have succumbed to frustration and hate. We weren’t trying to tell a story about Chicago’s violence, but about the people trying to somehow stop it from tearing their communities apart.” See the trailer here.

Seven-year Spin Artist’s client roster includes commercials for McDonald’s, State Farm, Coors Light, Sears, AT&T, U.S. Army and Jeep.

Spin Artist has also produced videos featuring Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne Tour and Magic Johnson’s urban brands and for the Union League Club of Chicago.

Spin Artist won the 2016 Stella Award for Best Music Video, “This Means War,” by musician Rev. Charles Jenkins, senior pastor of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church founded by his father, the Civil Rights leader Rev. Clay Evans.