MCM: Michael Kenneth Williams


Michael Kenneth Williams (1966-2021) recently passed away and, while he was best known for his seminal role on HBO’s The Wire (2002-2008), he also played key roles in a few historical costume movies and TV shows. Most notably was his striking portrayal of a 1920s bootlegger and community leader in Boardwalk Empire. So let’s give him a little frock flick retrospective as we consider what might have been.



Jimmy in Lackawanna Blues (2005)

Michael Kenneth Williams, Lackawanna Blues (2005)

A small role in this TV movie set in 1960s New York.



Tucker in Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

Michael Kenneth Williams, Miracle at St. Anna (2008)

Playing a scared soldier during World War II in this Spike Lee film.



Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)

Michael Kenneth Williams, Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)

His character is runs racketeering in Atlantic City & is the unofficial ‘mayor’ of the Black community in town.

Michael Kenneth Williams, Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)

He’s in league with “Nucky” Thompson (Steve Buscemi), Atlantic City’s corrupt treasurer, as well as the Mob.

Michael Kenneth Williams, Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)

The costumes by John Dunn & Lisa Padovani received several Emmy nominations.

Michael Kenneth Williams, Boardwalk Empire (2010-2014)

With tailoring by Martin Greenfield, the suits designed by Dunn were based on 1920s tailoring books from the Fashion Institute of Technology & examples at the Brooklyn Museum and the Met.



Robert in 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Michael Kenneth Williams, 12 Years a Slave (2013)

Filming this true story was traumatic for Michael Kenneth Williams. In an TV interview, he explained that he had an emotional breakdown while filming what later became a deleted scene in the movie.



Nat Love in They Die by Dawn (2013)

Michael Kenneth Williams, They Die by Dawn (2013)

A Black cowboy flick co-starring Erykah Badu & Rosario Dawson.



Jack Gee in Bessie (2015)

Bessie (2015)

As the husband of legendary blues performer Bessie Smith.

Michael Kenneth Williams, Bessie (2015)



Rock Banyon in The Spoils Before Dying (2015)

Michael Kenneth Williams, The Spoils Before Dying (2015)

A miniseries set in the 1950s underground jazz scene. Michael Kenneth Williams is shown here with Kristen Wiig as Delores DeWinter.

Michael Kenneth Williams, The Spoils Before Dying (2015)



Ken Jones in When We Rise (2017)

Michael Kenneth Williams, When We Rise (2017)

In this miniseries, Williams portrays a real-life activist who confronted racism within the gay community.

Michael Kenneth Williams, When We Rise (2017)

With Guy Pearce, who plays another gay activist Cleve Jones.



Trumpet Man in Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

Michael Kenneth Williams, Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

A murder mystery in 1950s New York.

Michael Kenneth Williams, Motherless Brooklyn (2019)

Williams didn’t want to fake playing trumpet during his scenes and played with actual musicians and a backing track.



Montrose Freeman in Lovecraft Country (2020)

Michael Kenneth Williams, Lovecraft Country (2020)

This performance earned Williams an Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series Emmy nomination.

Michael Kenneth Williams, Lovecraft Country (2020)

Montrose is the father of Atticus, the show’s main protagonist, but Montrose has his own significant plotlines as well.

Michael Kenneth Williams, Lovecraft Country (2020)




Per IMDB: “Former Buffalo Soldier Mo Washington travels West to lay claim on a gold mine. After his stagecoach is ambushed, Mo is tasked with holding a dangerous outlaw captive and must survive the day when the bandit’s gang tries to free him.” Michael Kenneth Williams stars in this film, and it’s listed as having completed filming, so hopefully we’ll see him one last time onscreen.



What’s your favorite Michael Kenneth Williams role?

6 Responses

  1. Boxermom

    Thanks, Trystan! Not strictly a Frock Flick, but he was in Inherent Vice, which was set in 1970. Let’s just say that this movie is best enjoyed with a few cocktails. :)

  2. florenceandtheai

    He was really, really good in Boardwalk Empire. His character was illiterate, but it didn’t keep him from running a massive underground business. The portrayal was nuanced. Chalky is ruthless, probably more of a “bad” than “good” guy, but he also legitimately functions as a community leader.

  3. Lily Lotus Rose

    Of his FrockFlicks, I’ve only seen Miracle at St. Anna. The movie is good, though the subject matter is so grim that you can’t really say that you “enjoyed” the movie. I had no idea he had such an extensive FrockFlick resume’. There’s much here that looks intriguing. Overall, my fave role of his was Leonard in Hap and Leonard, which took place in the 80s, after your cutoff date. He’s another talented actor who is gone too soon. Thanks for this post.

  4. Saraquill

    I’ve seen every episode of Lovecraft Country, but it’s only now that I notice that line down his forehead and cheek.

  5. Al Don

    It’s a damn shame. He was honestly one of our best working character actors. But he did leave an impact while he was here.