Michael K. Williams Fought for Truth of Gay Character in 'The Wire'

·2 min read
Michael K. Williams
Michael K. Williams

Michael K. Williams, who played gay drug dealer Omar Little on the acclaimed HBO series The Wire, fought for a full portrayal of Omar’s sexuality and relationships in the series, a new memoir reveals.

Williams died last September at age 54, and his memoir, Scenes From My Life, was published last week. Jon Sternfeld coauthored the book. Williams played Omar from 2002 to 2008.

“In regards to Omar and his lover Brandon (played by Michael Kevin Darnall), it seemed like everyone was dancing around their intimacy issue,” reads an excerpt from the book published by Vulture. “There was lots of touching hair and rubbing lips and things like that. I felt like if we were going to do this, we should go all in. I think the directors were scared, and I said to one of them, ‘You know gay people f*ck, right?’”

At one point, Williams and Darnall decided to kiss on-screen, although it wasn’t in the script. “They called us for rehearsal and the crew was still putting the set together, getting the lights and camera up while we ran through it,” Williams writes. “When I went in and kissed Michael on the lips, everyone stopped what they were doing and went slack-jawed. Twenty years ago, men — especially men of color — were not kissing on television. I don’t mean it was rare; I mean it did not happen.”

Director Clark Johnson said, “You’re some brave motherf*ckers,” and he asked them to do the kiss again. “I think he was anxious to get it before one of us changed our minds,” Williams notes.

The memoir also reveals that Williams had some trepidation about playing a gay character. “As for Omar’s homosexuality, it was groundbreaking 20 years ago, and I admit that at first I was scared to play a gay character,” he writes. “I remember helping my mother carry groceries to her apartment and telling her about this new role that I booked. I knew from the jump he was going to be a big deal.” His conservative mother gave her blessing, and he dived into the role.

“I think my initial fear of Omar’s sexuality came from my upbringing, the community that raised me, and the stubborn stereotypes of gay characters,” explains Williams, recalling that he was called “Faggot Mike” while growing up. “Once I realized that Omar was non-effeminate, that I didn’t have to talk or walk in a flamboyant way, a lot of that fear drained away. I made Omar my own. He wasn’t written as a type, and I wouldn’t play him as one.”

Williams’s credits also include the series Boardwalk Empire, When They See Us, Lovecraft Country, and the LGBTQ-themed When We Rise, in which he played activist Ken Jones. His memoir is published by Crown, an imprint of Penguin Random House.