“While the vast majority of Baltimore’s major drug markets are located in black neighborhoods, many users serviced by these markets are white. At Fayette and Mount, as on so many other American corners, the demand for heroin and cocaine is decidedly multicultural.” (The Corner – “Author’s Note,” p. 537)
As David Simon and Ed Burns explained in the excerpt above, race is at the center of the social, political and economic issues explored in The Corner. Race, particularly the racial identities of the writers/narrators, also plays an important role in the book. Interwoven with interviews and stories of the people of West Baltimore are lengthy polemics on the role of the War on Drugs, deindustrialization, and a poor educational system – among a host of other factors – in creating the American corner. In these particular sections, the narrator’s voice comes out strongly: David Simon and Ed Burns are authorities on the outside pulling back the curtain so that other outsiders can have access to an otherwise closed-off “underworld.” Despite their privileged position, these expository moments highlight the fact that the narrator and subjects of The Corner are fundamentally different in terms of race. And this difference is significant. Simon and Burns admit as much later on in the author’s note, writing, “Being a bit pale ourselves, we stood out on Fayette Street, and we were initially regarded by many of the corner regulars as police or police informants” (537). While Burns and Simon gain a great deal of access to and form significant relationships with their subjects, these racial differences required the two to authenticate themselves, to overcome a significant racial barrier within the community they desired to document. In some ways, this colored the interactions between the authors’ and their subjects, the narrators’ point of view in telling their stories, and the type of book that was produced.
However, in the miniseries, this racial difference and distance between the narrator and the characters is eliminated immediately. In a sort of director’s note, African American actor and director Charles Dutton establishes his own credentials for telling this story. Rather than authenticating himself to the people of the corner, however, he does so to the viewer. He recalls his own time growing in up in Baltimore and his relationship to the corner. Instead of being an outsider looking in, Dutton establishes himself as an insider projecting to the outside world. Thus, much of the tension between the narrator and the subjects, and significant discussion about race, are glossed over in the miniseries. How does the racial differences of the narrator and the people of West Baltimore manifest itself in the miniseries? Is anything lost in the adaptation because of the change in narrator?