Brother Mouzone
July 27, 2011 1:38 PM   Subscribe

WireFilter: What's the deal with Brother Mouzone? Accurate from-the-streets representation of idiosyncratic archetype, or straight caricature and relevant only as a plot device? [spoilers therein]

I'm re-watching The Wire and am getting frustrated all over again by the presence of Brother Mouzone. I've discussed this with friends and I think I'm the only one who feels this way, but I can't help but feel that he is wildly out of place among the other corner and tower boys who roam the streets of Baltimore. My contention is that he is simply a caricature, even a trope, albeit a narrowly recognizable one. But I have nothing to base this opinion on. I am not, shockingly, from the streets of West Baltimore so I don't know if a person like that would or could exist. Omar is a stretch, too, but yet Omar still makes sense. Perhaps that is a triumph of the writers, that I am convinced Omar could find a place in that environment, and the writers simply failed in adding the same level of texture or nuance to Brother Mouzone. Also, I think I read somewhere that Omar was an amalgamation of a few real people that Burns remembers from his days as a detective.

One issue that I recognize: Brother Mouzone is not from Baltimore. So yes, he would stick out. Perhaps this is intentional. Perhaps a Brother Mouzone does not and would not exist in the fabric of the streets of Baltimore, but in the Bronx or in Queens there is a cadre of NOI street mercenaries. Obviously another big issue is my relative ignorance of the type of people who live in any urban center. Not to say I'm a country rube, but in my limited knowledge of the NOI, it would seem to make more sense for Brother Mouzone to be from Chicago or Oakland.

The Wire does so many things well, and clearly, based off of their experiences, Simon and Burns know how to write police, politicians, teachers, administrators, and journalists. But when they start writing street characters, how much is based on direct knowledge and how much is just writing for an audience and using characters to progress certain narratives? I don't expect a lot of people to know the answers to these questions but maybe someone here does.

So, at the risk of this question sounding like chatfilter, which I'm sure it does, let me ask my question directly: Was the character Brother Mouzone based off of a real person? If he was not based off of one person, was he based off of several? Is he an exaggeration of a person the writers knew? Is it common for NOI adherents to provide "muscle" for drug gangs in many cities?
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think the best answer you'll find on this is this 2005 HBO Bulletin Boards excerpt (which is no longer on HBO's website as far as I can tell) reproduced here:

[Question from Forum Member] Is Brother Mouzone based on a real contract killer you or the other writers came across in your years of writing about the streets? He just seems too odd a creation (NOI- lookin, Harper's reading, erudite killer) to be completely fictional. If he is entirely fictional then my compliments again.

[David Simon:] Brother Mouzone, like all of our characters, is a composite of attributes from a variety of people. No one is entirely fictional or entirely real.

posted by 2bucksplus at 1:49 PM on July 27, 2011


Great question. I think it's 100% true that Brother Mouzone stands out in the The Wire universe. In Alan Sepinwall's words, he and Omar are the show's two "larger than life" characters. He definitely feels like a character that would appear on a more outrageous show (I think he kind of belongs in Weeds).

In regards to Omar, here is a comment on a blog left by David Simon with a bit of trivia that mentions one of the people who was a major inspiration for Omar.
posted by milestogo at 1:53 PM on July 27, 2011


ah, I forgot the cool part. The inspiration for Omar appears in S4E6.
posted by milestogo at 1:54 PM on July 27, 2011


In that Brother Mouzone is an erudite Nation of Islam contract killer, he is certainly rare, maybe even singular, but I hardly think he constitutes a caricature or a trope. I always understood him as representing another facet of violence, one that stands in contrast to the chaotic and unlettered violence we had grown accustomed to on The Wire. To me, Brother Mouzone was a principled menace, and a beautiful balance to our beloved Omar.
posted by msali at 1:57 PM on July 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


Mouzone's presence in The Wire is indeed off-key: He's way too stylized, although fun to watch. The character is something of a guilty pleasure, in that regard. Still, I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that he was derived fairly closely from some quirky and particular real-life figure, the kind who lodges in memory.

Sorry, I have no data or evidence to support this.
posted by darth_tedious at 2:07 PM on July 27, 2011


Having grown up in and around Baltimore (and its surburs) and had a mother who was a social worker for the city, I don't have a problem with Brother Mouzone. Like much of The Wire, he feels like another aspect of Baltimore's personality slightly crazy personality. Yes, he was from out of time, but he feels like how the NOI was portrayed in the papers or on tv. There was certain dignified air to them, mixed with crazy and subtle threat of violence.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:11 PM on July 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Probably the most famous Nation of Islam assassins are those who killed Malcolm X. Once you bring up and alluded to Malcom X in a show about the inner city struggles of young black men, there is more territory to explore. Would Brother Mouzone be ruthless enough to kill even Malcolm X? He helped kill Stringer Bell? What does that represent to a world where brutality is prized above any sort of progress? Maybe I'm off here, but I think it adds a ton of depth to bring up Malcolm X and his legacy via Brother Mouzone.
posted by mattbucher at 2:38 PM on July 27, 2011


I picture Brother Mouzone as someone who left the Nation of Islam but retained much of its trappings, and still had enough charisma, pull, or perhaps dirt on higher-ups that he was allowed to do as he pleases while still loosely being associated with the Nation.

I think he merited one of those little origin stories they produced before either season four or five (can't find them now).
posted by Horselover Phattie at 2:52 PM on July 27, 2011


Well, there's this. And then this. And way back, this.

I think you need to go back to the 1970s, though, to see a significant nexus between criminal gangs and religious/social ideology, with groups like the Black Panthers at one end and the Blackstone Rangers (El Rukns) at the other. It's not an impossible type, but a little anachronistic for even the 1990s when Simon was originally gathering material.
posted by dhartung at 3:20 PM on July 27, 2011


TVTropes calls him a "Badass Bookworm".

Also categorizes him under "Career Killer", "Dissonant Serenity", and "Dressed to Kill",
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:40 PM on July 27, 2011


Yeah I just thought some variant of Nation of Islam culture. I guess it didn't strike me as too far fetched.
posted by sully75 at 5:43 PM on July 27, 2011


I'm re-watching The Wire and am getting frustrated all over again by the presence of Brother Mouzone. I've discussed this with friends and I think I'm the only one who feels this way, but I can't help but feel that he is wildly out of place among the other corner and tower boys who roam the streets of Baltimore. My contention is that he is simply a caricature, even a trope, albeit a narrowly recognizable one.

Yeah, he bugs me too, and I've seen Black Muslim (loosely associated with Nation of Islam) members in suits and bow ties handing out bean pies all over Oakland, so it wasn't like he seemed out of place in an aesthetic sense. The Black Muslim Bakery here has long been associated with crime, corruption, terrorism, and murder, so I was prepared to accept the character in a functional sense as well. However, he never came across as cold and calculating to me, just sort of a buffoon. I don't think he's a well written/acted character and that's why he stood out.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:57 PM on July 27, 2011


Riffing on the story in dhartung's first link, Jason Kottke suggested this.

Also, characters "wildly out of place" is something The Wire always did extremely well. I could point to many examples, but my favorite (and a favorite moment from the entire show) is Bodie marvelling "The radio in Philly is different?" I think there's nothing out of place about characters being out of place on The Wire!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:15 PM on July 27, 2011


In that Brother Mouzone is an erudite Nation of Islam contract killer, he is certainly rare, maybe even singular, but I hardly think he constitutes a caricature or a trope. I always understood him as representing another facet of violence, one that stands in contrast to the chaotic and unlettered violence we had grown accustomed to on The Wire. To me, Brother Mouzone was a principled menace, and a beautiful balance to our beloved Omar.
posted by msali


See, to me it seems incongruent to state that BM is not a caricature or trope and then to describe him as exactly that. He's not a real person. He's not meant to be a real person. Rather, he represents an idea, a concept. In a story otherwise littered with realistic and flawed characters, Brother Mouzone is a shiny symbol, an embodiment of another way of life. That's absolutely the problem I have with Brother Mouzone.

Thanks to everyone who answered. The link about Biggie Smalls' killer being a BM-type character is really interesting. I think the most reasonable explanation comes from dhartung: that when Simon was gathering stories in the 80s and 90s, he perhaps ran across a few out of time NOI-type men who resembled BM, but that in the 2000s, a character with such distinct manners is simply anachronistic.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:31 AM on July 28, 2011


My take on BM (and some of the other dissonant and/or larger-than-life characters and plot elements in The Wire) are that they serve both as a counterpoint to the more realistic elements, to explicitly remind the viewer that this is a TV show. I've always assumed that that's the reason George Pelecanos was hired (have no citations whatsoever for this, so feel free to correct); to inject a sense of "crime", as opposed to crime. There's probably an entire TV criticism 101/cultural studies paper to be written about this, but I'm just going to wave my hand about a bit instead, because the reasons why David Simon might want to do this seem fairly obvious to me: consider the shot in the opening credits during the first two (three?) seasons: a black and white view from a security camera, which is knocked out by a figure who throws a stone at it.
posted by urschrei at 7:45 AM on July 28, 2011


I guess I'm more sanguine about Mouzone because my own analysis of the show includes awareness of the use of caricature throughout, even within the context of very naturalistic dialog and situations. Mouzone stood out, but not all that much more than, well, Omar, or Snoop. To some extent the sprawling storylines and cast of characters demanded this, just so viewers could keep things straight (this mattered even more during original cablecast, with weeks or months of gaps). Certain characters, also, were demanded to perform stand-in duty for whole areas of the world that would otherwise need to go unexplored -- the way that Clay Davis seemed to embody the entirety of political B'more for the first season or two, for instance. In the case of Mouzone, he seemed to be playing a necessary role of providing a similarly outsized nemesis for Omar, and yet also a counterpoint to the thug-like portrayal of other (black) killers. I don't think he was entirely successful as a character, but that was also true of other portrayals in the series, which in the end was a fiction and confection played in broad strokes to make certain points that Simon wanted to, even if he defied TV story-telling convention in so many other ways. This was still a pretty original creation that did not derive directly from the "urban" casting call cardboard cut-out playset.
posted by dhartung at 11:54 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


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