I am the last person who should be reading Michel K. Williams’s memoir. I have never seen an episode of The Wire. I only know him from his 3 episode stint on Community. In Season 3 episode 1 he says the line “I know who Sean Penn is! I seen Milk!” and I think about the way he delivered this line all the time.
I also remember how, back in the day, The Wire got so much press because they hired actors with the same lived experiences as the show. Notably, Williams was not from Baltimore and the New York projects he grew up and lived in were culturally different from the Baltimore projects…though I’m sure the producers didn’t get that nuance. 🙄
The memoir is a fascinating dive into Williams’ journey to fame and how he used his fame to become a juvenile incarceration reform advocate.
Williams was a queer Black man living in New York City during the 80’s–part of his early young adulthood was spent in the underground ballroom scene. He spent much of his life balancing his queer and Black identity. I will say–it did sort of stand out to me that there was very little about his romantic relationships or his thoughts on having his own family.
William is brutally honest about his failures and mistakes. Despite becoming a pop culture icon and renowned actor–Williams struggled to support himself and manage money well into his 40s. He found renewed purpose later in life and became an advocate for reforming juvenile incarceration.
Williams struggled with addiction his entire life which ultimately lead to his passing before this book could be completed. Williams’ addiction was often triggered after performing violent street roles that mirrored his real-life trauma. I can’t help but think that if there were more diverse roles for dark-skinned Black actors– Williams could have had a chance to expand his range and side-step his addiction.
I probably won’t watch The Wire (BTW this book spoils the show so …*20 year spoiler alert* ??) but I do want to check out his Vice show Black Market and the documentary he made about juvenile incarceration.
If you want a cliff notes version of this book check out Vanity Fair’s Michael K. Williams Breaks Down His Career video on YouTube. I think they used this interview to help flesh out the book.