Brother Mouzone (Michale Potts) in The Wire (Home Box Office, 2002)
Brother Mouzone (Michale Potts) in The Wire (Home Box Office, 2002)

A simple word symbolises the complexities of the characters in The Wire.

“You know what the most dangerous thing in America is, right?” Brother Mouzone asks his offsider Lamar. “N**** with a library card.” He chuckles at the end of his delivery, because for a well-read, well-educated and well-armed man like Brother Mouzoune the irony “is” not lost on him. Yes, he can and will readily shoot a man in broad daylight like the unfortunate Cheese (Method Man) finds out in Brother Mouzone’s second appearance in The Wire (2002–08) episode 'Storm Warnings' from season two. Yet despite the fact he is one of the most feared enforcers of the New York drug trade, the character – played by Michael Potts – knows that his alibility to wield “a copper-jacketed, hollow-point, 120-grain hot street load of my own creation” is just as deadly as his intellect.

Arriving in an immaculately tailored suit complete with bowtie and reading glasses, Brother Mouzone does not fit the archetype of a gun-toting hitman in not just popular culture, but The Wire also. Softly spoken, polite, erudite and a religious reader of Harper’s Bazaar, The New Republic, The Atlantic, The Nation and The Economist, the character’s unconventionality makes him memorable in both the lore of the show and for who he will inevitably become paired with: the iconic Omar Little. His open homosexuality, wit, cunning and – importantly – intelligence are all key traits that make Michael K. Williams’ portrayal of Omar unconventional largely because of the contradictions he embodies. Omar is a black, gay man, yet he is also someone who “robs drug dealers” (in his own words). He is someone who has committed murder on a serial level, yet he is also someone who has a clear moral compass. “A man’s gotta have a code,” Omar tells Detective Bunk Moreland (Wendell Pierce) in season four.

So too is Brother Mouzone: he is a criminal, yet he is also an intellectual. As as a hired killer, he is a murderer, yet he is also a man of faith as a Muslim African American and likely member of the Nation of Islam. He is someone who cares about what goes into his brain as much as he is someone who cares about comes out of the chamber of his Walther PPK 380 double-action. He is someone who seems hyperaware of the multitudes one person can embody, with those complexities making him one of the more fascinating characters in The Wire alongside former US President Barack Obama’s “favourite character” Omar. Brother Mouzone is the personification of what makes the Baltimore crime drama so captivating in that it’s not simply a case of cops and robbers, goodies and baddies, white versus black. Whether you’re a hitman for hire or a weathered detective, each character can be as complicated as the one they’re pursuing.

– Maria Lewis 

The Edit Line at ACMI (image credit: Gareth Sobey)

This essay was written for Edit Line

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