Live By the Code

2.25.2008

By Shana Naomi Krochmal

Even Barack Obama is talking about how he's a fan of your character. Why does it matter if a presidential candidate thinks Omar has something important to teach us?
That's groundbreaking for a number of reasons. The fact that he has the courage to publicly embrace someone who's openly gay -- it was a huge statement and a huge step in the right direction to closing up that gap in the community. What really made me feel good about that was seeing the pride in my mom's eyes. My mom has no desire to watch The Wire, but if you go to her house every TV is on this presidential campaign. She is a huge Obama fan. When I walked in the house, the pride in her eyes knowing I'd done something to gain his admiration on any level -- it made me really feel good. I felt proud.

The Wire is a very political show, and not just in its storylines about City Hall. What lessons should we take away from it in an election year?
What's wrong in our cities. I think that Sen. Obama's campaign, the issue he addresses and the way he talks about them, is a direct reflection on what The Wire wanted to do. Of it's course entertainment, but also edu-tainment. To quote my co-worker and one of my best friends, Wendell Pierce, 'If you walk away from The Wire not feeling uneasy and disturbed, then we didn't do our job.' It was a look into a world that has a lot of issues and a lot of problems. It's going on in all our cities -- white and black. You got a little bit of The Wire going on all over our nation. And it gave a voice to a people that normally go unheard, that nobody wants to hear about. When someone like Sen. Obama takes the time to watch The Wire, it makes me really hopeful that we did our job, that the message is out there. This is what's wrong on our streets, in our cities, in our school systems -- and it's time for change.

Where do you go from here as an actor? How will you avoid the limited choices Hollywood usually offers black men, one-dimensional gangbangers and the like?
I won't go there, that's for sure. I'm just very hopeful. I've been given an amazing platform just from that character and from a network like HBO. I've got some great things in the can. I'm very proud of this role I just did with Spike Lee out in Tuscany, Italy, about the buffalo soldiers called Miracle at St. Anna. I just signed on for a post-apocalyptic story with Charlize Theron and Viggo Mortensen [Cormac McCarthy's The Road]. I'm being asked to be amongst beautiful people in good roles. I always tell people that The Wire was like my college years. I never got a chance to finish school -- I robbed myself of that opportunity growing up -- and so The Wire represented my school days. At the end of every season, we have a wrap party and we always have a theme for it. Ironically, the fourth season, because of all the young people on it, we had a graduation complete with class rings, prom pictures, all of that. That was very symbolic of where I felt I was at personally and professionally in my life. And I'm ready to go forward now.

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