Cast members and creators of HBO’s “The Wire” called for students to tackle the causes and consequences of poverty that are vividly portrayed in the television show at a panel at Harvard Law School last night.
Law School Professor Charles J. Ogletree organized the event, the second such gathering of cast members at Harvard this academic year, in conjunction with a course he is teaching this spring at the Law School called “Race and Justice: The Wire.”
The event was in part a celebration of the show—the cast reminisced about their favorite scenes and plot twists—but also a discussion about America’s inner-city poor.
Co-creator of the show Ed Burns—who participated in the panel via Skype—spoke about the show’s link to real social issues.
“It’s about race, it’s about class, it’s about institutions and how those institutions perceive people, how people are chewed up by institution,” Burns said. “We looked at a world we knew fairly well, [and were able to] explore the truths hidden behind mist.”
The panel included Jamie Hector (Marlo Stanfield), Jim True-Frost (Roland ‘Prez’ Pryzbylewski), Andre Royo (Bubbles), Sonja Sohn (Kima Greggs), and Michael K. Williams (Omar Little). Fran Boyd and Donnie Andrews, who served as real-life inspirations for characters on the show, were also on the panel. In addition to Burns, show co-creator and writer David Simon spoke to the crowd via Skype.
Williams said that although he sometimes questioned whether portraying a violent drug dealer glorified a criminal lifestyle and black-on-black violence, he said he believed “The Wire” had a good influence on Baltimore and the nation as a whole.
“[‘The Wire’] showed mainstream America what’s really going on,” Williams said, explaining that the show had given the poor a voice in mainstream America. “Although ‘The Wire’ is set in Baltimore, there’s a wire in every city.”
Many of the cast and crew took the opportunity to talk policy. When asked to discuss what Harvard Law students can do to help save American cities from poverty, both Simon and Sohn issued a call to action to the audience.
“We’re going to need to pick up a brick and get out in the street,” Simon said. He said that ever since the 1970s, inner-city poor and working class families have been neglected.
“Nothing is going to change the plutocracy until there are people in the street to change the plutocracy. We have found a way of throwing away people,” he said. “We have to have the courage to going back to who we were.”
Wesley D. Lewis, a first year at the Law School and a student in Ogletree’s seminar on “The Wire” this semester, said that he enrolled in the class because of Ogletree’s prestige. But once he caught up on episodes of the show, he said he soon realized why the show created such a phenomenon.
“A lot of people are attracted to the show—it’s more than just entertainment,” Lewis said. “A lot of people connect to the show because it sheds light onto real issues.”
Donna Ackermann, who is not affiliated with the University, said she came to the event because of her love for the show. She said she supported the multiple calls for Law School students to become public servants.
“If you don’t do that at Harvard Law School, where else are you going to do it?”
—Staff writer Caroline M. McKay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.