With popular shows like “Scandal” and “Being Mary Jane,” African-American women are playing powerful lead roles on television. But there have been very few in recent years (minus 2013’s “Deception” starring Megan Good) that put other black female actresses on the front line in action and political roles on television.
Every blue moon a black female actress will peek her head in for a motherly role or a promiscuous role, but viewers rarely find out anything besides that. A couple other exceptions to the rule are Kat Graham reappearing and disappearing on “The Vampire Diaries” and Angela Bassett recently holding strong in season 4 of “American Horror Story,” but more often than not, if one black woman shows up in the cast, the rest disappear.
During all five seasons of “The Wire,” TV writer/creator David Simon gave multiple black female actresses the opportunity to play a variety of characters and bypass some stereotypes. And unlike most programs, they were rarely killed or disappeared.
Check out some of the heavy hitters and supporting actresses (both adults and teenagers) from the show:
Sonja Sohn played the role of Detective Shakima “Kima” Greggs, a lesbian detective who loved the ladies almost as much as she loved her job as a cop. She was as comfortable in an investigation room as she was spying on druglords in the streets. And the male detectives loved her just as much, not just because she was pretty and unattainable but because she was about business when it came to the law.
Felicia “Snoop” Pearson played the role of a character with the same name. She was one of two of druglord Marlo Stanfield’s killers. Give her a drill, and she would make snitches and anyone who rubbed Marlo the wrong way disappear into one of the abandoned Baltimore homes.
Maria Broom played the role of Marla Daniels, the ex-wife of Lieutenant Cedric Daniels. She had major issues with her husband’s role in the police department and wanted him to become a lawyer. Their differing opinions on his career direction lead to them eventually splitting, but it didn’t stop her own career in city council leading her to be a councilwoman from the 11th district of Baltimore.
Melanie Nicholls-King played the role of Cheryl, Kima’s ex who just couldn’t get the detective to settle down. Similar to Marla, she wanted her significant other to take on a more peaceful career but neither Cedric or Kima were having any of that. By the time Cheryl decided to have a child, Kima realized motherhood wasn’t for her and split. The joke was on her after she realized Cheryl turned out to have a better life without Kima in the picture.
Michael Hyatt played the role of Brianna Barksdale, the mother of drug dealer D’Angelo Barksdale and sister of druglord Avon Barksdale. There always seemed to be a question of whether she loved her son more than she loved money, but after Detective McNulty made her wonder whether D’Angelo’s death really was a suicide, viewers saw a more human side of her. Viewers also realized just how much she was not phased by Russell “Stringer” Bell’s reputation.
Shamyl Brown played the role of Donette, the mother of D’Angelo’s child and the love interest of Stringer once D’Angelo ended up in prison. She, like Brianna, questioned whether D’Angelo really committed suicide due to Detective McNulty nosing around. But viewers may have just been trying to live through her brief but juicy love scenes with Idris Elba (who played the role of Stringer). Their couch scene was worth long-lasting Cheshire grins.
Wendy Grantham played the role of Shardene Innes, a stripper who repeatedly flirted with D’Angelo. But when she found out that D’Angelo was not the man she thought he was, she hesitantly chose to step up and help detectives find out more about Stringer and Avon’s drug trade. What may have thrown viewers off was how easily she jelled with Detective Lester Freamon, who before her was looked at as more of a master sleuth than a man with needs.
Marlyne Barrett played the role of Council President Nerese Campbell, and she had no problem giving Mayor Thomas “Tommy” Carcetti a hard time on everything from how he was handling crime in Baltimore to how the educational system was being ignored. And judging from her reaction to quotes in the Baltimore Sun, she wasn’t too fond of honest journalists either.
Kelli R. Brown played the role of Kimmy, Omar’s ride-or-die for robbing drug dealers. If Omar needed a woman to help out and distract the more lustful drug dealers, Kimmy was the one to contact. And she would whip out a gun as fast as her partner in crime.
Edwina Findley played the role of Tosha Mitchell, another one of Omar’s ride-or-die women who would help him rob drug dealers or seek revenge on those who crossed him.
Joilet Harris played the role of Officer Caroline Massey who Detective Freamon counted on to translate or help out with wiretaps. She is also the only person in the major crimes unit who is willing to raise an eyebrow at whether Detective Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski really is racist after several incidents that the police department kept turning a blind eye to.
Sandi McCree played the role of De’Londa Brice, mother of Namond Brice and the wife of Roland “Wee-Bey” Brice. (Although some sites say that she is not his wife, Julito McCullum — who plays the role of Namond — repeatedly calls Wee-Bey her husband during season 4’s bonus feature “It’s All Connected.” However, Wee-Bey clearly wasn’t monogamous to her considering his antics with Keisha in season 1’s “Lessons.”) She was also quite possibly the worst mother in television history, never doing anything remotely like work but always rocking furs and going out for a night on the town. That is, when she wasn’t harassing Brianna Barksdale and Namond for money to support her lifestyle.
Shamika Cotton played the role of Raylene Lee, the drug addict mother of Michael Lee. She never seemed to be interested in quitting, but she was always interested enough to bug Michael for money to support her habit. While her characteristics were a disaster, every stunt she pulled (especially with her younger son Aaron “Bug” Manigault) helped viewers see the humanity in Michael while he was going down the wrong path with Marlo’s crew.
Karen Vicks played the role of Gerry, a senior member of Tommy Carcetti’s mayoral campaign.
Stacie Davis played the role of Ms. Duquette, a doctoral student teacher who took quite a verbal beating from students once they were separated into two groups. She played an important role in showing how teachers were struggling to teach a generation that had no interest in being taught anything outside of the street life.
Eisa Davis played the role of Bubbles’ sister, Rae. Drug addict Reginald “Bubbles” Cousins had crossed her one too many times for him to be welcome into the main area of her home, but she did give him the option of sleeping in her basement. Considering Bubbles’ trickery it wasn’t too hard to believe why he had to leave her home every time she went to work, but by the end of the series and a newspaper article telling about his life, she finally gave her brother another chance to redeem himself.
Denise Hart played the role of Miss Anna Jeffries, the foster mother of Randy Wagstaff. Her role starts off very small until Randy is accused of snitching about Marlo. His crew harassed her and Randy so badly that they tricked cops into leaving the front of her home in order to burn the house down. After she’s injured, Randy is forced back into the foster care system.
Dravon James played the role of Grace Sampson, a teacher who was respected by even the worst students in the Baltimore high school. The reaction when she walked into a classroom versus other teachers and substitutes was night and day, and she knew students (and their parents) by name. She also dated Dennis “Cutty” Wise before he went to prison and was one of the first people he contacted when he was released 14 years later.
Mia Arnice Chambers played the role of Squeak, who might possibly be the most vexatious girlfriend on television ever, was determined to tag along with her boyfriend, Lamar, who would run around buying disposable cell phones for Avon. Her reputation also helped Bubbles track down their whereabouts for detectives.
Destiny Jackson-Evans played the role of Crystal Judkins, a caring student who Prez could count on. She played the background quite a bit, but helping Duquan “Dukie” Weems with receiving clothes before his parents could steal them for drug money made her warm viewers’ hearts. She was also the student that the principal asked to call 911 after one girl cut another during a fight.
Tiffani Holland played the role of Chiquan, a bullying girl who was cut with a razor by another student, Laetitia. Although she was only in one episode, she raised interesting questions about school bullying.
Charmaine McPhee played the role of Laetitia, the female student who was fed up with Chiquan bullying her (and Dukie) and cut her with a razor. While others stood back from the fight, teacher Grace Sampson slapped Charmaine to break up the fight and get the razor away from her. Dukie sat next to Charmaine waving a fan in front of her in what was believed to be a nonverbal thank you (or a sign of solidarity).
Rakiya Orange played the role of Charlene Young, a student who went out of her way to give Detective Roland “Prez” Pryzbylewski a hard time after his transition from police work to high school teaching. Considering Prez’s lightning quick temper, shooting a fellow officer questionably because he was black and pistol whipping a kid in the eye, Charlene’s character (as well as other contumacious students in the cast) was sweet revenge.
Na’Dria Jennings played the role of Chandra Porter. She is one of the female students sent to the separated class for students who act out and butts heads with fellow student Zenobia.
Taylor King played the role of Zenobia Dawson, the only student who seemed to give Namond Brice a run for his money as one of the most rebellious teenagers in the class. Although it would’ve been nice to see Prez have to deal with her more often, she inflicted her wrath on ex-cop Howard “Bunny” Colvin instead. She slowly came around the more Bunny started to bond with the students.
Shamontiel is the Scandal Examiner and the National African American Entertainment Examiner, too.
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