Editorial: Why The Wire’s Omar Little is the most important queer character of the century

By Răzvan Ion

Omar Little, a character from the critically acclaimed television series The Wire, is considered one of the most important queer characters of the last 50 years. He is a complex and iconic character who defies stereotypes, both as a gay man and as a stickup man who outsmarts both gangs and the law. He is depicted as a strong and confident individual who is unapologetic about his sexuality, and his portrayal on the show challenges traditional representations of gay men in media. Additionally, his portrayal by actor Michael K. Williams is widely acclaimed, and his death on the show serves as a poignant commentary on the struggles faced by marginalized communities. Overall, Omar Little represents a significant step forward in the representation of queer characters on television.

The Wire, which ran from 2002 – 2008,  is considered the best TV series ever made unanimously by critics and the public. And for good reasons. After 20 years there is no TV show which can be compared to it.

Omar is a classic stickup man who can outsmart anyone at the game. He works with gangs and the law, doing everything on his terms. This iconic character left an outsized impact from his screen time. He was mythical and astonishing. In 2008 first-time presidential candidate Barack Obama named Omar as his favourite character.

When he testifies against a rival in court, wearing a white print floral tie fashioned into an ascot, the defence attorney tries to tear him down as a predator who makes his living by taking advantage of the scourge of drugs. Omar tilts back in his chair cooly and counters: “I got the shotgun. You got the briefcase. It’s all in the game, though, right?” That will remain the most recognisable phrase in The Wire.

One night, holed up in his crib with his boyfriend, Brandon, he admonishes, “Don’t nobody wanna hear all those dirty words, man. Especially coming from such a beautiful mouth.” The kiss that follows could be the most tender romantic moment featured in all of the show’s 60 episodes.

Of course, that means Brandon, who is also Omar’s partner in crime, is about to get whacked. Spotted in a pinball arcade by a gangbanger, he’s found dead in a Christ-like pose on the hood of a car in a back alley with stab wounds and cigarette burns all over his body, one eye gouged. Omar’s anguished animal cry fills the empty morgue, and fuels a war of revenge that helps drive the show for the next four years.

Omar Little challenged gay stereotypes in the media. Before Omar in The Wire, cinema and TV had a very rigid idea of what a gay man was. They were effeminate, camper than an Elton John live show and written with the laziest of stereotypes. These characters were gay first, and everything else after. With The Wire and Omar, it’s the other way around – he’s a man in his own right who happens to be gay.

Omar was larger than life but offered a new type of character for young gay men to relate to. Gay men aren’t supposed to be violent, let alone the most feared man in all of Baltimore. While gay men were usually the butt of jokes when it came to their fighting ability, Omar challenged that perception, as well as the idea that homosexuality should be taboo. With a swaggering cool – dressed in a trench coat, Kevlar bulletproof vest and do-rag – a deep-voiced drawl and his own theme tune (The Farmer In The Dell), Omar was the closest thing prestige TV had to a gay superhero.

There’s a famous line near the end of season one, uttered by Wallace (played by a very young, very cute Michael B Jordan), one of the young corner boys who shopped Omar’s boyfriend to the enforcers in the organisation: “This is me, yo, right here.” That’s what it was like for me, watching an unashamed gay man with no conflicts over his sexuality strut across the screen, destroying every stereotype built up about homosexuality in front of him.

Michael K. Williams was one the greatest actors who really stand for his role and was acclaimed by the entire world. Like Omar, he refused to be identified as anything when he was asked if he is gay. But he broke barriers playing a gay black man. Like Omar, his end was not simple. He was found dead of an overdose of fentanyl-laced heroin.

We are what we are, and there’s no getting away from that. As Omar says, it ain’t about the paper. It’s about love.

Răzvan Ion is the founder of GAY45. A professor of curatorial studies and critical thinking in Vienna, he is passionate about technology, comic books, the stock market, art, alternative music, movies, literature, and blockchain.

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