As part of the Maryland Film Festival on Friday, writers Ta-Nehisi Coates, David Simon, James McBride, and Taylor Branch sat on a panel to discuss a work in progress. The four are adapting Branch’s civil rights trilogy America in the King Years as an HBO miniseries. And audiences were treated to a frank discussion on race, the civil rights movement, and Baltimore, in the which the writers frequently disagreed.
A memorable moment came as Coates encouraged Simon (who worried that the destructive moments in the Freddie Gray protests hurt the cause) to look at Baltimore as “an ecological system” in which over-policing and over-incarceration act like an abundance of carbon dioxide.
There are “effects,” he said that go “beyond whether people are good, whether people are nice, whether they’re bad.” “That’s like the point of ‘The Wire,’ right? It’s structural, it doesn’t matter how noble people are,” Coates said, “it’s rigged. It’s rigged from the jump.”
“I would like for people to be nonviolent, that’s my desire, but I’m not surprised when they’re not. You wonder how much CO2 you can pump in,” Coates said. “I am not calling for riots any more than I would call for global warming.”
The headlining panel was reportedly organized on short notice, as the Maryland Film Festival sought to add programming that would acknowledge the unrest in the city. Looks like they nailed it.