Watching The Unwired: A new docudrama about The Wire

Slate's Culture Blog
March 17 2010 4:33 PM

Watching The Unwired: A new docudrama about The Wire

Hardcore enthusiasts of The Wire can be forgiven for skipping (or, more likely, not having heard of) The Avon Barksdale Story: Legends of the Unwired , released last week on DVD. The unrated "docudrama" purports to tell the true story of the "real" Avon Barksdale . What more: The duo behind the project, Nathan Avon Barksdale and his associate Kenny Jackson, have accused David Simon of exploiting their life stories . But this allegation isn't terribly convincing. The Unwired , with its poor production values, reeks of an opportunistic effort to make a quick buck off Simon's success. The pair's credibility is also in serious question. It seems that "Avon" is not actually Nathan Barksdale's middle name but one that he appropriated for the purpose of making this movie.

Barksdale is not completely without charm. The descriptions of his childhood, spent hustling drug dealers, taking brutal beatings from the same criminals, and "consolidating power" on his paper route, help humanize an otherwise garish thug. But his interviewer, the actor Wood Harris, stifles his charisma. Harris, who was brilliant in his portrayal of Avon in The Wire , is completely inept as a journalist—asking softball questions with clumsy follow-ups. The dull segments on various other Baltimore characters, like police officer Oscar "Bunk" Requere, fail to offer any counterbalance to the fetishized view of gangster life presented by Barksdale and his ex-cronies. They contain none of the poignant realism that made The Wire such an important piece of social commentary.

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All that being said, The Unwired contains some hilariously shoddy dramatic re-enactments —which in and of themselves are worth watching. In the cheesiest one , a young Avon beats up a rival gang member, who pitifully tumbles over a two-foot brick wall and slumps to the ground in a sad heap before plotting his revenge:

Jeremy Stahl is a Slate senior editor. You can follow him on Twitter.