Michael K. Williams Was at the Forefront of a Cultural Change

Everyone knows that iconic figurine trophy award representing the highest achievements in US TV media: The Emmy. Many actors spend their entire career trying to get one of these beautiful trophies because of what they represent. But some actors aren’t focused on the awards; they’re focused on their art. And, sometimes, that passion alone gets them to the stage, receiving the coveted trophy award anyway.

Michael K. Williams is best known for his roles in shows like The Wire and Boardwalk Empire. What many of us may have overlooked in these earlier roles he played (which were all huge successes), is that his brand of acting was more than art. His on-screen characters helped spur a conversation about black masculinity that we are still fleshing out today. Williams was nominated for an Emmy this year, but sadly he won’t be there to win it, as he passed away early this September.

Williams’ Undeniable Impact on American Media and TV Culture

Williams’ most recent roles that garnered attention from fans and critics alike included When They See Us. His role as a father of one of the Central Park Five earned him an Emmy nomination in 2019. And his role as the closeted father of Lovecraft Country’s main character has earned him another nomination for this year’s ceremony. In these roles and countless others, Williams struck a chord with some of the most intersectionally-marginalized groups in our nation.

The issues he represented in his roles were influential and spurred cultural discourse. The complicated systemic issues between black men and police was a theme of many of his castings. But, just as important, his characters questioned how the African-American culture at large views black masculinity and black queerdom. These are things you can’t quantify on a screen and vote for. These are real discussions he spurred, real views he questioned, real differences he made. And that is what will make his mark on American TV media permanent, despite his tragic passing. Hopefully, as each actor this year walks that stage and holds that so sought-after figurine trophy award iconic of the Emmys, they’ll have Williams in their minds and they’ll remember that, often, acting is much more than just playing a character.