Maxim’s oral history (I know, I’m groaning myself) of The Wire is a lot of fun, in part for stories about actual addicts trying to buy drugs from the cast or kids skipping school to be extras in the public school plot in season four, in part for the image of Idris Elba tooling around Baltimore strip clubs before he was famous in the states. But reading through it, I think I was most interested in the little anecdotes about the show and race. First, there’s the assumption by some of the black actors that they were being abandoned in favor of white storylines in season two:
Seth Gilliam: Me and Domenick got frustrated because we were doing a lot of sitting around. We went to David Simon one day and said, “What’s the deal here?” He said, “There’s a long-term plan for your characters, and we’re not phasing you out.”
Michael K. Williams: Season 1 I was just happy to have a gig. I was frivolous with the money. It was all about party time. Season 2 I got real antsy. I thought David Simon bamboozled the black cast when he brought all the white actors in to tell the docks story line. I was like, “This is some bullshit!” But midway through Season 3 I saw that this was bigger than me.
Now, obviously Simon proved those fears wrong, but it’s a sign of what people are conditioned to expect by their experiences in Hollywood, and from watching other shows play out. And then there’s the reaction even within the show to its failure to achieve awards recognition:
Amy Ryan: We would shake our heads, going, “Why are we being overlooked?” It was maddening, but it also didn’t matter, because we knew.
Wendell Pierce: That’s politics. That’s the politics of outside New York and L.A. That’s the politics of race. We had a running joke where after every nomination, this one woman in the hair department would be so hurt, you know, “You guys were so good!” I was like “Janet, sorry, but you’re on a black show!”
There’s something kind of depressing—and clarifying—about the inability of one of the best shows ever to air on television to dispel that pessimism because, in spite of everything else it was, it was still a black show. The rules change. The game remains the same.