Avon Barksdale Lives Among Us
January 13, 2010 2:07 PM   Subscribe

Nathan Avon "Bodie" Barksdale is a real life Baltimore gangster upon whom the character from "The Wire" was based. Now, Nathan Barksdale has a chance to tell his side of the story in this upcoming documentary.

In a cool twist, Nathan Barksdale and Wood Harris, who played Avon Barksdale, have a meeting that is shown in the documentary.
posted by reenum (28 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
In the second link, the narrator uses the word 'shenanigans' to describe some of Barksdales crimes.

Sure, shenanigans just about sums it up. Those rascals!
posted by Pecinpah at 2:22 PM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

His shenanigans are cruel and tragic, which makes them not shenanigans really at all. Evil shenanigans.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:26 PM on January 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

Not to throw a wrench in the works, but it's really more accurate to say that, if anyone, Avon Barksdale is based on Melvin Williams, who was Nathan Barksdale's superior in the Baltimore drug trade of the 1960s and '70s. There's an hour-long documentary from BET's American Gangster series that delves into his life story and is definitely worth watching for fans of the show, who will recognize Williams from his role as the Deacon.

Barksdale's documentary seems like a shoddy attempt at cashing in by playing up the connection. Don't believe the hype.
posted by dhammond at 2:27 PM on January 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

I'm going to pistol whip the next person that says shenanigans.
posted by electroboy at 2:30 PM on January 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

He feels somehow sued by The Wire, like he should have made more money for it?

You know, I'm not really of the opinion that people should make money capitalizing on their past crimes, so I'm not exactly crying a river here.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:32 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the last page of the article:

Arts Editor Bret McCabe notes: Approximately one week following the publication of "Last Word," the April 29 feature story about Nathan "Bodie" Barksdale and Kenny Jackson's docudrama project, The Baltimore Chronicles: Legends of the Unwired, former Sun reporter/The Wire creator David Simon contacted City Paper to contest one aspect of the story. In the first paragraph, Barksdale is introduced as "Nathan Avon 'Bodie' Barksdale"--how he and his mother refer to him in the Unwired footage.

Simon consulted his own reporting files on Barksdale, and discovered that in all his police documents, arrest records, and court papers Barksdale is referred to only as "Nathan Barksdale"; in some cases the documents even include the abbreviation "NMN"--"no middle name."

He's correct: In none of the court and legal documents City Paper used in the fact-checking of this article does "Avon" appear as Barksdale's middle name.

The inconsistency matters: Since the publication of the City Paper story, Barksdale appeared on the cover of a summer issue of Don Diva magazine (issue 38) as "Nathan Avon Barksdale," Unwired was named "Best Docudrama" at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival program in Los Angles in July, and it was picked up for a March 2010 DVD release re-titled The Avon Barksdale Story: Legends of the Unwired.

City Paper got back in touch with Barksdale through his lawyer to request verification of his middle name, documentation which we have permitted them more than ample time to produce and which has yet to materialize.

As such, City Paper is unable to verify that Barksdale's legal given middle name is "Avon."

posted by Fuzzy Monster at 2:36 PM on January 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Not to mention the put-upon "WE WERE EXPLOITED!" vibe. Don't play that card if you did so much dirt that you've been shot 21 times in multiple murder attempts. You weren't exploited, some fiction writer took some elements of reality, blended them in with some elements of fiction, and represented the result as fiction. Boo-hoo.

This from the article: [...] treads too lightly on the police by avoiding any suggestion that they engaged in criminal activity [..]

Except for, you know, Officer Walker, or the time that Herc and Carver steal some drug money.

While we're all wire-filtering, does anyone know the origin of the "Stringer" nickname? I know Stringer Bell's character name was based off of a real-life "Stringer" -- but to what does that nickname even refer?
posted by axiom at 2:37 PM on January 13, 2010

Am I reading this right? Is this guy an impostor?
posted by jsavimbi at 2:40 PM on January 13, 2010

Am I reading this right? Is this guy an impostor?

Not exactly, he was definitely a gangster and a drug dealer in the same era, he's just overrepresenting his importance.
posted by electroboy at 2:44 PM on January 13, 2010

Melvin Williams frequently appears on Public Access Channel 25 (The City Channel!) to tell kids to stay off drugs and to stay in school because you'll end up in jail like him. But he usually starts rambling and ends up telling a story about how awesome it is to be a gangster and how he was the greatest that ever lived. It's very strange.
posted by electroboy at 2:47 PM on January 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Good day to you. I said good day.

I like how you left out the "sir."
posted by bearwife at 2:54 PM on January 13, 2010

Maybe Omar will come around and set things right again.
posted by troybob at 2:55 PM on January 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

Just finished the 2nd page and still reading, but it seems like these guys are criticizing The Wire as if it was representing itself as a True Story. I mean, when did The Wire ever pretend to be a true story? Ever? Simon was always adamant: it's a fictional narrative constructed and influenced by real life and using journalistic principals. The proper names and references have always sort of been a bit of a nod to specifics from Ed Burns history. Am I not mistaken?
posted by Lacking Subtlety at 2:57 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have several friends neck-deep in the criminal justice system of Baltimore. Shit's all true. Most of the people are based on real people. Hell, Jay Landsman played Lt. Mello and an actor played a detective named Jay Landsman on the series.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:05 PM on January 13, 2010

Similarly, in the show, Lt. Marimow is a short-sighted martinet who doesn't realize the potential of the homicide detectives under him, whereas Charles Marimow was a short-sighted editor who didn't realize the potential of David Simon.

Good article in the second link, gives a little background into the storyline about the Baltimore Sun. (Disclosure: Tom Scocca was my summer camp counselor).
posted by electroboy at 3:21 PM on January 13, 2010

Has Simon ever spoken about why he has used the names of real people for a fictional TV show? I mean, I know he's a stickler for realism, and a lot of the stuff you see on screen is based of shit that's happened in real life, but even so... it seems a bit odd to me.
posted by afx237vi at 3:22 PM on January 13, 2010

Has Simon ever spoken about why he has used the names of real people for a fictional TV show? I mean, I know he's a stickler for realism, and a lot of the stuff you see on screen is based of shit that's happened in real life, but even so... it seems a bit odd to me.
Reached via e-mail while on location in Europe, David Simon rejects any notion that Bodie Barksdale or Kenny Jackson or anyone for that matter is a model for any character in The Wire. "It seems that Mr. Jackson and Mr. Barksdale feel it was our obligation to tell an empirical truth about the history of the drug trade in Baltimore, or at least their version of that truth and further, to consult them about their version of that truth," Simon writes. "Given that The Wire is fictional, we are at a loss to respond intelligently. Specifically, Nathan Barksdale and Kenny Jackson do not exist in the world of The Wire. And indeed, if we are writing fiction, aren't we trying at points to avoid empirical truth entirely?"
got it? high-brow intellectualizing + true crime blacksploitation = art.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:34 PM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

There's nothing particularly good or bad* or surprising here:

Some guy, one at least tangentially connected to some of the doings that Simon et al. used as a springboard for The Wire, is now using The Wire as a springboard for rebranding himself and making a few bucks.

There are worse crimes (some of which this particular guy may have committed, but that's neither here nor there).

David Simon: Meet Avon Barksdale, a fictional character inspired in part by a composite of different real-life people. Also, meet Melvin Williams, one of the real-life guys he's sort of based on. Also, meet the fictional Barksdale Gang, not necessarily the same as the real-life Barksdale Gang.

Nathan NMN "Avon" (?) Barksdale: I'm from the Barksdale Gang! I'm Avon Barksdale!

David Simon: No you're not.

Greek Chorus Voicing the Spirit of Baltimore: Doesn't matter either way. So it goes. By the way, David Simon, you really shouldn't have used the exact name of a specific real-life gang, let alone names to close to specific gang members. Sure it may have given you an extra thrill, but that way lies messiness.

*Okay, the footage from Nathan Barkdale's series looks really bad-- ludicrously, unwatchably bad. But so what? I see it as sort of akin to a cheap photocopied flyer for a show or a party, taped to a lamp post.
posted by darth_tedious at 3:48 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If this had been done in a serious, low-key way it might have been interesting.

The hyped voice-over and background 'gangsta' music totally ruined any semblance of credibility it might have had.

And, for the love of God, shenanigans? Does Baltimore need a new law on the books for that?
posted by bwg at 4:19 PM on January 13, 2010

wow, tough crowd tonight.

thanks for the link.
posted by ms.jones at 4:29 PM on January 13, 2010

/pistolwhips SinisterPurpose and bwg
posted by electroboy at 6:59 PM on January 13, 2010

As a huge fan of The Wire, I have always wondered if the Barksdale character was also inspired by another infamous real-life gangster: David Barksdale, founder of the "Gangster Disciples" based in Chicago(the largest street gang in the US by membership!). There was apparently a lot of intrigue between Barksdale and his #2 man Larry Hoover. After Barksdale was later murdered, Hoover took over, went to prison, and famously ran the operations of the entire gang from prison. Avon Barksdale always struck me as a mix between these two real life gangsters.

posted by archae at 9:07 PM on January 13, 2010

So. Baltimore.

Sometimes, I miss my hometown.
posted by redbeard at 10:15 PM on January 13, 2010

Don't make me call Omar, electroboy. " )
posted by bwg at 12:01 AM on January 14, 2010

He'd probably be confused if you called him electroboy.
posted by electroboy at 6:33 AM on January 14, 2010

I met the real Omar, or one of the main figures he was based on - Donnie Andrews. He was at a youth violence summit in Baltimore. A real nice, soft spoken guy who has obviously been through a lot, and unlike Mr. Barksdale, he in no way plays up or glorifies his past. And like others, when I hear or read Melvin Williams, he always comes across as only semi-reformed.
posted by jetsetsc at 10:59 AM on January 14, 2010

Oh man, I forgot about that, adding another layer of David Simon, he's married to Fran from The Corner.
posted by electroboy at 11:14 AM on January 14, 2010

Holy crap!
In his youth Melvin Williams, the actor who plays the Deacon, was a real-life drug kingpin who was arrested by series writer Ed Burns in 1984 when he was a Baltimore city police officer. Creator David Simon was responsible for covering the arrest for The Baltimore Sun at the time.
I know they tell you to write what you know, but wow!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:55 AM on January 14, 2010

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