Monday, September 18, 2017

Michael K. Williams, Groundbreaking Actor

When he was on HBO's THE WIRE, his electricity as an actor sent a jolt of pleasure right through you.  He was so good.  We regular viewers were talking about his mean streets character, Omar Little.  As writer Julie Miller of VANITY FAIR would agree, Omar was a "complicated badass."  Her August 22nd feature on Williams is titled "Michael K. Williams Has a Story You Need to Read to Believe."
I'll not spoil the surprises of that current VANITY FAIR piece.  But I just wanted to point out something that occurred to me.  Omar Little was not only a street tough power figure, he was gay.
Omar was not the typical gay character we've seen on TV.  Williams did another series.  I proudly admit that I binge-watched the first season of SundanceTV's HAP AND LEONARD. Twice.   I loved those 1980s country characters created by novelist Joe Lansdale.  This crime series is fresh, witty and socially relevant.  James Purefoy plays the pacifist, Hap Collins.  He opposed the Vietnam War.  His loyal and blunt best friend, Leonard Pine, is a tough-as-nails Vietnam veteran with a heart o' gold under all that gruffness.  Leonard protects Hap and himself.  His short-fuse temper can make you laugh.  Oh...and Leonard the Vietnam vet is gay.
Again, Williams gives us another image of a gay man that we haven't seen much of on television.  He wasn't the the fabulous and always fashion-conscious big city young gay man who's quick with the witty comebacks.  He's a working class gay male.  HAP AND LEONARD also looks at something the network TV rarely did once gay characters became plentiful and acceptable.  The SundanceTV series looks at the straight/gay male best friend relationship.  I love that.

Early this year, he was in the cast of the ABC mini-series, WHEN WE RISE.  This docudrama was about the history of America's LGBT community fighting for its rights and fighting discrimination.  Williams played the real life character, Ken Jones.  Jones was in San Francisco fighting against AIDS bigotry and he worked to make the gay rights movement more diverse.  WHEN WE RISE went from the Stonewall Riots in 1969 through to the AIDS epidemic that started in the 1980s.  Guy Pearce, Mary-Louise Parker and Rachel Griffiths co-starred.
In a CBS SUNDAY interview over the weekend, Oscar-nominated and BAFTA Award-winning actor, Jake Gyllenhaal, said that he was cautioned against taking on the role he did in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, the 2005 film that brought him the Oscar nomination and the BAFTA Award.  He was cautioned because he'd be playing a man in love with another man and playing a gay character could halt his career.  It didn't.

African American actor Michael K. Williams has played three distinct gay characters on series television.  I cannot think of another Black actor who can match that.  Michael K. Williams is a groundbreaking actor.

When GLAAD hands out its awards and honors at its next gala, it should polish one up for Michael K. Williams.


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