Days before actor Michael K. Williams died, he stood in his penthouse in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, hanging artwork on the wall and talking to a friend about how he wanted the future. What does his career look like?
“He kept talking about how he wanted to be like Berry Gordy in the movie,” said Greg Cally, Williams’ friend and collaborator. “And he just wanted to uncover black talent and give them a chance.”
Williams is best known for the tough, law-defying characters he plays on television, most notably the pistol-wielding gangster Omar Little in “The Wire” and the city trickster Atlantic Chalky White in “Boardwalk Empire”.
But in the last months of his life, Williams talked about how he wanted to quit acting and focus on roles with more creative control, friends said. This included the project he was working on at the time, the second season of Vice TV’s “Black Market with Michael K. Williams.” As the show’s star and executive producer, Williams sought to explain the human desperation and systemic inequality that underlie the criminal professions, which in the new season include including online scams, illegal cannabis markets and booty body improvements.
A few days after that conversation with Cally, Williams stopped returning phone calls. His nephew, Dominic Dupont, expressed concern and on September 6 he and his wife went to the 54-year-old actor’s apartment. Surname found him dead from what was then ruled accidental drug overdose related to fentanyl.
Grief flows out from Hollywood, where there are many Williams’ collaborator considered him both a great talent and a loyal friend, to the East Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn, where Williams grew up and still a dedicated person and visible presence.
His death also dimmed the future of unfinished business like the “Black Market”. While production recently completed main photography, Williams only completed narration and on-camera commentary for three of the six episodes.
Marsha Cooke, an executive producer, said the first major producer meeting after Williams’ death was heavy with emotion, but the creators were united in their resolve, Marsha Cooke , an executive producer said.
“We have to do this for Mike,” Cooke said. “This is his legacy, and we will do everything in our power to make sure it’s done the way he wants it to.”
The the first season of “Black Market”, launched in 2016, featured a range of felony activities, including robbery in Newark, NJ, and illegal fishing off the coast of South Africa. Williams asked his subjects to reveal both a procedural “how” and a more emotional “why” to their illegal defense. He is also open to his own story, retelling war with a drug addiction that began while he was on “The Wire”.
Season 2, which premiered earlier this month, has the same goal: to explore criminal cultures to reveal why people use crime. Reasons include poverty and a greater sense of social alienation, along with the belief that stealing from large corporations such as banks is morally acceptable. (Episodes are available to stream at ViceTV.com.)
“Your back is against the wall; you do what you have to do,” says Williams in the first episode, about digital scammers and identity thieves. “I definitely know I did.”
Between interviews with scammers stealing people’s financial information and so-called stimulators methodically stealing clothes for resale, Williams recalls on camera that he started the scam in the 90s because it was a safer alternative to drug dealing. (“If you enter all nine digits, you will eventually get someone’s Social Security number,” he quips.)
After Williams’ death, production secured the help of three of his cast friends: Tracy Morgan, who befriended him after meeting at a Knicks game; Felicia Pearson, whose chance meeting with Williams at a Baltimore nightclub led to a three-season arc on “The Wire”; and Rosie Perez, who maintained a friendship with Williams after meeting him in the 1980s, when he was a much talked about dancer in the club. All three agreed to retell the rest of the season without paying – instead, the producers donated to charities of their choice.
Perez, who recounted an episode about the black water market that had arisen in Puerto Rico, said in an email that she initially didn’t like the angle of the show and spoke to Williams about it, telling him that although though she knows both are personal. understand the despair of living in poverty, allowing theft as a way of life is not right.
She said Williams told her, “I’m just trying to understand and try not to judge the desperate behavior of desperate people. All I ask of you is to just watch and do so. ‘”
But the new season tries to avoid glorifying crime, as in the first episode, for example, emphasizing that no online scam is a “victim”. It also speaks to people who have spent years in prison after they engaged in the illegal activities in question.
Williams’ pleas to leave his young subjects out of the criminal world are given with caution. At one point, he asked two crypto-trading scammers to imagine what they might achieve if they channeled the intelligence they put into these schemes into something else.
“I think about that all the time,” replied one.
Williams easily slips into a mentoring role. He met Cally at a Knicks game about a decade ago, when Cally was a locker room attendant at Madison Square Garden. (Cally intervened when a security guard questioned why Williams had entered the VIP area.) They began talking, and soon the actor gave a boost to Cally’s fledgling journalism career. , including giving him a production job on “Born in the system,” Williams’ 2018 documentary about the detention of minors aired as part of Vice’s HBO series. (That show, “Vice,” is currently showing on Showtime.) Eventually, Cally became a producer and director on “Black Market.”
Not long after Williams invited Pearson to star in the movie “The Wire,” she scored a role on the show as nail gun killer Snoop. She has appeared in Spike Lee’s films “Chi-Raq” and “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” and is working with “Wire” co-creator Ed Burns on a limited series about her life. that.
Williams, she said in a phone interview, “can pull out of you things you didn’t even know you had inside of you.”
Dupont, who began working with Williams after he was released from prison and featured in “Brought up in the System,” says his uncle was so empathetic about the suffering of others that it was offensive. strong movement. “I think sometimes that becomes a heavy weight that I have to carry,” he said.
Williams’ investment in some of the “Black Market” themes is evident. In the third episode of the season, which premieres this week, he visits Baltimore (where people still call him “Omar”) to interview Chad Arrington, a rapper who has performed as Chado Focus and has sentenced up to 30 months in prison after he scammed more than $4 million for a company he worked for, in an attempt to boost his music career (including buying social media followers). fake association).
Williams was moved by Arrington’s explanation for his plan – to succeed as a rapper and then invest in his struggling community – and join him. outside the Baltimore courthouse before sentencing.
“This is where my dreams come true, and at the same time, I almost died on these streets, man, because of my addiction,” he told Arrington. “To have the chance to live, come back and be a part of your journey… that’s what it is all about to me.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/26/arts/television/michael-k-williams-black-market.html For Michael K. Williams, Legacy Disrupted