Omar’s sexuality

17 Nov

Omar and Kima are The Wire‘s most popular homosexual characters. I would go ahead and say only, because I can’t remember any other characters who aren’t just the significant others of Omar or Kima, but there is the suggestion that Rawls is gay in Season 3. In each case, it is in part because of their sexuality that they are such interesting characters. Particularly for Omar, sexuality is more a political deployment than something that lends character depth.

Omar’s motivation through the first season is revenge for his boyfriend, a plot line that takes advantage of Omar’s surprise sexuality to hide the fact that blind vengeance is pretty trite. In the scene pictured we see Bailey express his distaste in gay affection, a reaction shot that likely does not categorize the sentiments of The Wire’s demographic of people-who-can-afford-HBO, but is a reaction shot nonetheless. Simon certainly expects people to think “Woah, this gangsta killer from the projects is openly gay,” and from discussion of the show I gather that not only does this moment happen for most viewers, but they are impressed by it as well. “Good for Simon to extremely defy stereotypes.”

But what does it really mean for Omar to be gay? Barksdale’s crew certainly takes advantage of his identity to tap into a separate reservoir of insults, but the more important thing is that he steals from them. That’s what gets him a bounty. We do not see Omar struggling with a partner in the same way that McNulty, Kima, Bunk, Barbara, and Daniels all poorly navigate their romantic lives. He never address, like Kima does, the social judgement of his identity; this is an especially important omission considering how bold of  Omar it is to be out in an aggressively homophobic context. This is not to say that Omar should be defined by his sexuality, as neither of the other characters are (though Kima’s sexual life is always presented sensationally, and her strength as a female character is almost exclusively determined by how manly she is considered), but when his sexuality has so little bearing on his character, we should question the writers’ treatment and intentions, and thus the nature of our own reactions.

An argument could be made that the show’s shallow treatment of Omar’s sexuality is intended to reveal the homophobia, but is this really news to anyone, much less the HBO crowd?

4 Responses to “Omar’s sexuality”

  1. vhas November 18, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    I think it’s also interesting to note that Omar’s character never has a moment of explicitly “coming out” to any other characters on screen. You hear other characters talk about his homosexuality and then you see it in action with his affection with Brandon, but to the best of my knowledge he never has to state it. What would the effect be if Simon had switched the roles, where Kima was the character who didn’t have to address her sexuality and Omar was instead? Would it just seem less authentic, somehow?

  2. ambailey9113 November 18, 2012 at 5:29 pm #

    I too had a question about the significance of Kima and Omar’s sexuality when watching the show. While the writers might be attempting to comment on homophobia within the institutions portrayed, I think that there might also be something more complex at work. This topic is addressed briefly in Professor Jagoda’s essay “Wired”:

    The Wire similarly complicates standard social groupings. Characters such as Omar Little—a gay black man who fearlessly rips off drug dealers, forms an alliance with the Major Crimes Unit, and lives by a code that keeps him from harming anyone outside of the drug trade—defy traditional sociological categorization (194).

    The show is concerned with networks – whether the technology network that Special Crimes monitors to take down Barksdale organization or the connections between the various institutions presented. However, its depiction of these networks is not only complex but also messy (to borrow Patrick’s term). In presenting characters like Omar or Rawls who do not fit neatly into pre-existing conceptions of what a stick-up kid or policeman “should” be, the show seems to argue that the people within these networks cannot be easily categorized or abstracted to make sweeping generalizations about the social categories, institution or networks in which they exist. Sexuality is only one way that this is accomplished.

  3. hcloftus November 18, 2012 at 10:14 pm #

    Honestly, I don’t even know if I can get behind the idea of over-analyzing homosexuality in The Wire, at least any differently than analyzing the sexual/romantic lives of the other characters. What the series prides itself in is realism. The fact that characters are homosexual mirrors perhaps what would be found in a mirrored, “real-life” situation, maybe there is no particular inserted significance. Omar doesn’t address his “coming out” because there’s no particular reason to, not like Kima, who needs to explain it to McNulty and it’s like the cameras just happen to be there. I agree with Amber in that sexuality is one means in which the viewer to attempt to flesh out categories or connections. However, I tend to think the insignificance of sexuality to Omar is because it is insignificant in the realist lens in which we are seeing him.

  4. fereiramaria13 November 18, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    I want to call attention to the scene in episode 11, The Hunt, where Kima’s girlfriend goes to the hospital. There, there is a brief mix-up over who she is and what her relationship is to Kima before Daniels settles on referring to her as the roommate. At this moment, the audience gets to see how news of Kima’s sexuality is received. Kima doesn’t have to address her sexuality in this scene, but somebody else does, albeit in a round about way. It’s a fairly strong contrast from how Kima presents the information. She does it without explanation, but these officers, in navigating this situation, had to “deal with” the development. It’s an interesting moment to consider.

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