Remembering Michael K. Williams, a Documentary Maker With a Difference

As the final season of "Black Market" airs in the UK, the actor and documentary host is remembered by his former colleagues.
Simon Doherty
London, GB
Michael K. Williams in Black Market getting out of a car
Michael K. Williams investigating unemployment in New Jersey. Photo: Black Market S1 / VICE

Michael K. Williams was always more interested in the “why” instead of the “how”. If you’ve watched Black Market, you’ll know the late VICE documentary host and actor was more concerned with the sociological context of crime than the mechanics of the act itself. With his trademark non-judgemental curiosity, Williams shone a light on people who exist on the fringes of society, giving a voice to the marginalised and those who would have been silenced otherwise.


There was just one problem: he was always late. “He was not the most punctual,” Black Market executive producer Dion Sapp recalls. But Williams’s lateness was never down to Hollywood starriness – even though that would have been more than understandable coming from the multiple Emmy-nominated actor who rose to prominence for his role in The Wire as the charismatic stick-up robber Omar Little. Instead, “it was always because he saw someone who he felt needed him”, explains his former manager Matt Goldman. “His lateness was his greatness.”

As the second and final season of Black Market airs on All 4 in the UK, Williams’s colleagues recounted their memories of the Brooklyn-born actor who passed away in September 2021 at the age of 54. He died of a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose, with four men now charged with drug conspiracy over his death.   

“He made me realise that there’s power in everything that you do,” Black Market producer Jermaine S. Ridgway says. Him and Sapp both remember driving around with Williams while filming the series: “We would stop at a red light and he’d be like ‘pull over, pull over’ because he saw someone he thought needed help on the side of the road,” Sapp says. Then Williams would ask: “My name is Michael, brother, what is your name?”


“He would give these people everything he had in his pocket,” Ridgway says. “And I mean everything he had in his pocket. He would do this shit all the time.” Goldman describes him as “a delight to be around”. “From the way he dressed to the music he listened to, everything about him was classy,” says Greg Cally, who directed and produced the series. 

But that’s not what set him apart in the world of documentary-making. “Michael was fearless,” says Dr Bahiyyah Muhammad, an associate professor of criminology at Howard University who featured alongside him in a 2018 VICE on HBO segment, Raised in the System, about the US juvenile incarceration system. “He would walk into any story, stand in the middle of it, rip it up and look at all of the pieces to put them together. He’d tell the story through his voice but from the community’s perspective.” 

Williams approached his documentary work with a particular blend of empathy that he extended to all the subjects he worked with. His sheer determination to connect with the people at the heart of his reports – often those living at the edges of society at the intersections of complex issues – was what got him up in the morning.

Those he interviewed as part of Black Market – South African fisherman trapped by a lack of social mobility, young people in the United States grappling with an addiction to opioid-based cough syrup, people in the UK forced to shoplift meat in order to survive, and many more – were more than just a story. To Williams, they represented a broken society that still held the promise of renewal; a society he left his own indelible mark on. 

If you’re in the UK, click here to stream BLACK MARKET S2 for free on All 4.