After the cult success of HBO’s gritty Baltimore crime drama, The Wire, the obsessiveness of the show’s fanbase became a running joke. Devoted Wire-lovers browbeat friends, family, and coworkers with the show’s many virtues. Wire fans became emotionally attached not only to the show’s characters, but also to the actors who played them. Though I managed to shun Wire evangelists for a time, I too finally became a convert after its six-year run ended in 2008. Like many a fan I was thrilled to see actors Michael K. Williams and Michael B. Jordan land juicy post-Wire roles (and saddened to see some of the show’s other fine actors seem to disappear from view).
And, like many a fan, I also wanted to know these actors’ backstories. What had they been up to before The Wire? We get one answer to that question above, in the adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s 1933 short story “The Gilded Six-Bits.” In the starring role, you’ll recognize The Wire’s (eventually) reformed ex-con Dennis “Cutty” Wise, or Chad Coleman, in his first starring role. Playing opposite him you’ll be happy to see your favorite wiseass, philandering, cigar-chomping detective, Bunk Moreland, or Wendell Pierce, who has landed many juicy roles of his own, both pre- and post-Wire. (Here, playing a wiseass, cigar-chomping womanizer.) Adapted and directed by author and filmmaker Booker T. Mattison, the short film debuted on Showtime in 2001.
The story is an early example of Hurston’s genius, written four years before the publication of her breakout novel Their Eyes Were Watching God and two years before her groundbreaking study of African-American folklore, Mules and Men. Published in the influential literary magazine Story—which also served as an important venue for writers like J.D. Salinger and Richard Wright—“The Gilded Six-Bits” so impressed the magazine’s editor that he asked Hurston if she had a novel in progress. She didn’t, but told him she did, and immediately began work on Jonah’s Gourd Vine, published the following year. A story of infidelity and reconciliation, “The Gilded Six-Bits” features characters and a setting familiar to Hurston readers—ordinary African-Americans caught up in the travails of rural life in the Jim Crow South. But as in all of her work, the seeming simplicity of her characters and language slowly reveal complicated truths about the nature of language, marriage, sexuality, and money. And few could bring her characters to life better than your favorite Wire actors.
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Hear Zora Neale Hurston Sing the Bawdy Prison Blues Song “Uncle Bud” (1940)
Hear Zora Neale Hurston Sing Traditional American Folk Song “Mule on the Mount” (1939)
An Artful, Animated Tribute to The Wire, Created by a Fan of the Critically-Acclaimed TV Series
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness
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