So I finally watched 54, and I’m not too much of a man to admit that I cried. It wasn’t just Joe dying (although it made me sad), cause jetset/shoals are right that he was a criminal, and he had it coming. (Did anyone else think there was something a little sexual about Joe closing his eyes and Marlo telling him to breathe easy? The camera trained in on Marlo’s face while the shot was fired? Dude, there’s a reason Marlo doesn’t notice the ladies. He is hot for the gun.) But I was overwhelmed by the small moments that added up to one bleak bang: Michael and his mom; the little withdrawn boy who was so traumatized by the murders; Slim Charles telling Omar to do it if he’s gonna do it — confronting the violence that hangs over him every day of his life.
It was nice to see Beadie, and great to see Clay Davis in front of the grand jury, and I loved Daniels’s little smile of triumph all alone in his new office, but my favorite moment was when Kima sat down to play with Elijah. Adults can be so selfish with kids — we want them to go away when we need quiet, or to entertain us when we need comfort. I loved how Elijah was just doing his thing, coloring. It was like he was the mom, and Kima was the one who needed him. And then when she talked to the little lego man and the two of them started building that house… man I needed that scene.
On Martin Luther King Day I watched Clockers, and I was struck by how differently that movie (and book, I imagine, although I haven’t read it) represents the kingpin. We know Avon and Stringer and Marlo and Joe and all the rest of the guys on the top are vicious and cold-blooded towards those outside their clans. And it’s true that Wallace was killed. But on the whole, I feel like The Wire shows those characters to be like fathers to those who report to them. It’s hard to imagine Marlo killing Snoop, or Avon taking out Bodie — but in Clockers, Rodney Little tells Mekhfi Phifer that he’s like a son to him, but has no qualms about betraying him. Clockers doesn’t show the grinding poverty of The Wire, but it does question the “family” — the family of men — that The Wire seems almost to celebrate as the only alternative to the crackhead parents, bad schools, and no future of life in the city. Spike Lee seems to use Richard Prince’s plot to bust up whatever honor we bestow on successful gangsters, dealers, “businessmen.” Lee also — unsurprisingly — does a much better job of showing women, notably Regna Taylor as the mother of a ten-year old boy, challenging the drug culture.
This brings me to my last point. Clockers does something The Wire never does, which is show you the other people who live in the projects, the other paths of honest work and family that they choose — those paths aren’t easy, and they come with their own terrible consequences, but they are still a choice. The tragedy of the inner city that we see in these kinds of shows and movies is that children are asked to assume responsibility so far beyond their age, and so much harder than other kids do. But you know, Simon talks a lot about dignity in the face of impossible odds. And there are many ways to have dignity, and many ways to be a man. We haven’t seen Cutty this season. I hope that changes.