There are two sides to every story and then there is the truth. The real-life tale of Avon “Bodie” Barksdale, former drug kingpin of Baltimore, was interloped into HBO’s acclaimed series The Wire by ex-journalist and author David Simon. Ed Burns, the show’s co-producer and Simon’s creative partner, drew from his own experiences as a detective to illustrate Barksdale from the law enforcement perspective. Now that the television-writing duo have told their sides, only the truth remains and who better to recall it than Mr. Barksdale himself? As well-crafted and gripping as The Wire was, the real Avon doesn’t feel as if the show did him justice. So he’s setting the record straight with The Avon Barksdale Story: Legends Of The Unwired, to be released March 10th on DVD and distributed by E1 Music. Wood Harris, the actor who portrayed Barksdale on The Wire, narrates this intense, straight-no-chaser documentary.
It’s only fitting that a fellow certified O.G. participate in Barksdale’s film endeavor. Chaz Williams – of Black Hand Entertainment and BET American Gangster fame – is Avon’s good friend, business consultant and associate producer for Legends Of The Unwired. So when I met with Avon “Bodie” Barksdale for a Q&A session, Williams sat vigilantly in the background, spiking the convo with his commentary. Soak up some game.
TSS: Why are you putting this DVD out?
Avon Barksdale: There are two or three reasons why I’m putting this out, but the main reason is I wanted my story to be told by me. I wanted you and everybody else that buys this to get it straight from me. I can add some clarity to it.
TSS: Did you feel that The Wire did you justice with its portrayal?
Barksdale: No, I don’t.
TSS: Then why did you get Wood Harris (who portrayed Barksdale on The Wire) to narrate the movie?
Barksdale: Because I agreed with Wood Harris and the way he portrayed me. I agreed with him being chosen as the actor to represent me. And he done a pretty good job, especially with him not being a guy that’s from my neighborhood. Even down to the vernacular, he spoke like us and everything.
TSS: They took what they perceive as your story and put it on TV. Do you feel as if that’s a form of snitchin’ on their part?
Barksdale: I wasn’t worried about that because of the way that they approached me. I wasn’t worried about people perceiving it as snitching because for one, I didn’t give them any information. Nobody came to me and did what you’re doing now, interviewing me. David Simon worked for a local newspaper called the Baltimore Sun and he was a court reporter. Not once did he ever come and interview me like you’re doing. I give props to journalists who do what you’re doing and actually do journalism. The way that they did it, they told me, “We’re gonna do this anyway, with or without you.”
TSS: They have the right to do that?
Barksdale: Well, I didn’t think they did, but it takes a lot to fight that type of… that’s literally fighting Hollywood and everything that comes with it. I was just out of the joint. I was actually still in the joint when they first approached me. But the way they approached me; they approached me and told me, “Look, this is a matter of public record.” Right? One guy, Ed Burns, he wasn’t the arresting officer but he is the investigating officer. He’s at the top and he sent the other ones to arrest me. You’re really gonna have to buy (the DVD) so that you can understand more because that would be an hour, explaining all of that to you. Nah, I didn’t feel like the really did me any justice. I felt like Wood done the role justice because he’s a good actor. He’s the shit, y’know? We kind of favor. I felt like he done well and that’s why when I got ready to do mine, I chose Wood actually. There was another guy I could’ve chose.
TSS: How have the streets of Baltimore changed from the time you were out there doing your thing until now?
Barksdale: Aw, man. So many. You see a lot of other races. When I was doing my thing it was either black or white. Now you see all kinds of races. It is a recession, a depression; everybody’s out there hustlin’. That’s one way. Another is when I was out there, it seems as though money was plentiful even though I grew up poor. But it was right there and I knew where it was at. But now everybody needs to know, “Where’s the money, man?”
Chaz Williams: If I may… I just want to say in relation to the difference in now and then, a lot has to do with the propensity for random and senseless violence. Black-on-Black violence. It’s almost as if back then it was sort of like (there was) a common enemy we could identify with; so the violence of black-on-black wasn’t as great, as we could all relate to one thing. To give you an example, say when Martin Luther King was assassinated or something happened to a young black girl in the South and they sic dogs on her. At a moment’s notice, it was riots all over the country. We wasn’t going at each other. We all knew and recognized we had a common enemy.
I think what happened is that because of the indoctrinations and a lot of other things, we have become our own common enemy. It’s so much easier for us to shoot down one of our neighbors because they actually got us hating our neighbors; you know what I’m sayin’? It’s so easy to rat your comrade. How do you come up with somebody and eat with them at the same house and at a moment’s notice you’re giving him up, your mother up, your cousin? It’s a whole ‘nother mentality going on now than there was going on then. You know what I’m sayin’? So that’s my take on that.
In reference to The Wire, one of the things is that – and I really want to get this out – there always seems to be a problem when blacks tell our own stories. And when we tell our own stories they say that we are glorifying violence. When somebody else tells our story it’s all good. (They say) “It’s realism, it’s gritty” and all this bullshit. No. When there is somebody like say, a Spike Lee that tells Malcolm X or there’s a Charles Dutton that tells The Corner, they do not get the kind of credit they should get or the kind of money either. The Wire, David Simon and them pulled in over $90 million dollars. We got none of that so one of the things is that, he should be fairly compensated for his story.
They gave him some money. They made it a consultancy or something after the fact; after telling him, “We’re gonna do it anyway.” But they didn’t pay him for the rights to his life story which is what everybody else gets paid when they tell these other stories about whoever it is. All we get is “stop glorifying violence.” What we’re trying to do most times is that someone misrepresents us and we want to correct it with the truth. Not saying it’s all lies, however we’re not glorifying it. We’re just letting it be known what it is, however you want to take it. As a life lesson, however you want to take it. We can’t change what we’ve been, we are what we are. But it’s not always glorifying. When they do Scarface, it’s a classic. When they do The Godfather, it’s a classic…
Barksdale: Superfly is black exploitation.