Michael K. Williams is most identified as Omar Little, the charismatic gang-preying hood on “The Wire.” But he’s never been one to be boxed in. In addition to appearances in “RoboCop,” “Kill the Messenger” and “Inherent Vice,” the actor has a small but key role in “The Purge: Anarchy,” in which he plays a viral revolutionary trying to spread awareness of the real meaning behind the annual holiday: that most of the people being killed are the poor and downtrodden. This, the lifelong Brooklynite says, isn’t too far from reality.
Your character gets to be the voice of reason.
He’s a mixture of Malcolm X, Huey Newton and Tupac Shakur. He’s smart, he’s outspoken, he’s brave, he’s honest. He spoke to me in a lot of ways. I felt like one of the people he was talking to, that he was informing me about what’s really going on in the world. He speaks to the downtrodden, the have-nots, the people who don’t have a voice, who feel like they’ve been forgotten by society. His words and writing drew me to the project.
Did the first “Purge” — which is a critique of bloodlust in the moneyed suburbs — speak to you as well?
I loved part one, but there was an elephant in the room that it did not address that part two does — that is that all the poor people were the ones being purged. Or if they weren’t being purged they were being forced to murder just to survive. They don’t have the luxury of state-of-the-art security systems to gate themselves in their mansions.
How do you think this film speaks to low income urban communities.
We’re living in a sort of Purge, with the social structure, the economic divide, the haves and have-notes, the middle class being eradicated. People are not surviving in this country. They can’t feed their families, they’re eating cat food for dinner. It’s like a slow-motion Purge happening right now.
The film was shot in Downtown Los Angeles, but what it says applies to Brooklyn.
In black neighborhoods a lot of people are being pushed to Brownsville and East New York. And what is happening is violence is on the rise out there, because you’re pushing all these people from different communities into a neighborhood they don’t want to live in. There’s overcrowding in these neighborhoods. It’s causing a lot of bitterness and violence in the borough.
Where can they go after East New York gets gentrified?
No one really cares. That’s even bigger problem than them being pushed out: that no one cares. It’s insult to injury.
New York City is becoming prohibitively expensive. It’s hard to live in Manhattan these days.
I’m thinking of moving to Manhattan. I’ve lived in Brooklyn my whole life and I can’t stand the overcrowding and the gentrification. It’s wiping out communities and decades of culture. The crime has gone down and the borough looks a lot greener and prettier. And I’m down with that. I don’t front. But I do miss a certain element of the grit. I get angry when people — I call them “transplants” — move into Brooklyn and look at me like what the hell am I doing here. You couldn’t survive in the Brooklyn I grew up in. I survived this s—. I deserve to be in the nice areas more than you. It shouldn’t be because you have more money than me that you get it now that it’s all cleaned up. It’s not fair. But it is what it is.
There are still pockets where there’s a balance between new money and communities that have lived in the neighborhoods for decades.
But it’s shrinking. The Hispanic community right now is fighting for Bushwick. People think Williamsburg is hipster. Williamsburg is not hipster anymore. It’s actually yuppie. The hipsters were artists. They were bands and musicians and painters who wore black. They’re gone. They can’t afford that s—, the starving artists. They’re over there in Bushwick now. And what’s happening is the Hispianic community is being pushed out of there because of the spillover from people can’t afford Williamsburg anymore. It’s like this wave that wants to clean everything up and pushes everyone further South. It’s crazy.
This film also speaks to America’s unhealthy gun culture.
There have been 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook. I’m not talking about all the other crap that goes on in the streets. There have been 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook. We got a problem. All President Obama was saying is get a background check. He’s not trying to take anybody’s guns. He was saying if you’re on record as having mental illness or if you have a violent past, it shouldn’t be that easy to just buy a gun — especially if you’re both. This film is definitely talking about the level of violence we are obsessed with. It’s funny when people get 12 hours to purge and guns are the first thing they turn to. How far away we are from that in reality is the question.
How is the Ol’ Dirty Bastard movie in which you’ll be starring coming together?
It’s going great. We have a director, we’re looking for a co-lead opposite to play Jared, the manager. It’s looking like it might come together in the fall.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge