‘Black Market’ showcases Michael K. Williams’ compassion for others

“He was the sort of person who would give you the shirt off his back,” former co-star Felicia "Snoop" Pearson says about Williams

Loading the player...

The beauty and the complexity of Michael K. Williams is laid bare once again in the new season of his Vice show, Black Market. The late Williams rose to prominence on The Wire as a rugged gangster who loved men. Williams was a brilliant, thoughtful, sensitive artist, who also struggled with drug addiction for decades.

The layers of Williams are on display in the Black Market, where he takes you inside various criminal underworlds. In one episode, he follows cybercriminals, and in another, he dives into the world of stealing and reselling clothes. He does this while maintaining a sense of compassion and respect for people of these worlds, never looking down on them.

In many cases, Williams stays in touch with the series’ participants after filming. The late actor did not conceive of the show—the idea was pitched to him—but he took it extremely seriously and treated it like one of his most special projects.

Celebrities Get Ready For The 27th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards
Michael K. Williams is seen in his award show look for the 27th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards on March 31, 2021 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images)

Black Market is a fascinating look into wild worlds that most know little about. Principal photography on the latest season was finished before Williams’s sudden passing in 2021, but there was still some voiceover work that was incomplete. Producers brought in a few of Williams’ friends to pick up the slack, including his longtime friend Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, who also became a star on The Wire.

Pearson is now doing press to help promote Black Market’s new season and she spoke to me about Williams. The Baltimore native shared that the main thing she remembered about Williams was his generosity.

“He was the sort of person who would give you the shirt off his back,” she said. She didn’t mean generosity only in terms of money or things but also in terms of time, wisdom, and spirit. She also said he was “a man of swagger.”

Williams was perfectly at home in the hood wherever he went, according to Pearson. “He could go anywhere in Baltimore and be good,” she explained. That wasn’t because he was a central character on the most hood show ever, it was because of who he was. No matter how big he got, everyone recognized him as a man of the people.

“He was someone you could trust,” Pearson said. That sense emanated through Williams, as did his authenticity, his Blackness and his love of Black people. Pearson also shared that, “You could tell that he been through some things.”

Williams longtime manager, Matthew Goldman, who is an executive producer on Black Market, said of Williams, “He had a lot of trauma in his life and it really affected him. He accessed it in his characters.” Pearson added, “A lot of people have demons. Mike wore his on his sleeves.”

I spoke with Williams four times and felt his depth. He was a serious man with a great, textured voice, a big disarming smile, a love of dance, and an intense desire to help incarcerated people. He knew how corrupt the criminal justice system was and he lived to do something about it.

Williams was always thinking about how he could use his platform and his power to help others who were less fortunate than him. He was an important person not because of what he did onstage, but because of what he did off of it. Williams will be missed, but you can still consume his work and his spirit by checking out his beloved show, Black Market, on Vice.

Have you subscribed to the Grio podcasts, ‘Dear Culture’ or Acting Up? Download our newest episodes now! TheGrio is now on Apple TV, Amazon Fire, and Roku. Download theGrio today!

Loading the player...