With a career spanning the last several decades, Wendell Pierce has made an impact on both big and small screen, with roles ranging from the silly (a grunting sex scene in 1995’s Waiting to Exhale) to the sublime (his pitch-perfect turn as civil rights titan Hosea Thomas in the Oscar-nominated Selma).
For many, it’s his roles on David Simon shows that have truly made the man iconic. While for me Treme is the crowning achievement by this creative team, a stunning hybrid between drama and nonfiction, it’s Pierce’s role as “Bunk” on The Wire that has brought him legions of fans.
Pierce has been involved with a number of documentary films, including an appearance in Spike Lee’s remarkable If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise about Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath in New Orleans (as a side note, that doc introduced then non-actor Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, who became Pierce’s on-screen wife on Treme and has gone on to have a varied career of her own).
As part of a larger interview for Indiewire, Wendell and I discussed the documentary nature of Simon’s work. Pierce responded with a discussion about a remarkable film by one of the most esteemed American documentarians of all time, Les Blank. Afterward, he gave us a list of five more favorite docs, with commentary. Read about his six picks below.
Always for Pleasure (Les Blank, 1970)
“[With Treme], David did something that the documentary film Always for Pleasure attempted to do and I think succeeded. I think David took that [idea] and went even further. Get a chance to see Always for Pleasure, a ’70s documentary about New Orleans. The filmmaker just goes and just turns on the camera and opens up the microphone.
“It’s a visual and feel-painting of the culture of New Orleans, trying to capture the culture and the essence of what the city is, this last Bohemia, this northernmost Caribbean city. It was a poem to the city, not linear at all, not the specificity that you would expect from a documentary. [Blank] just turned the camera on and let the images and the things that happened tell the story and speak to you.
“David was greatly influenced by that film. You take that same approach and then you add storyline and perspective and commentary and a point of view the way he does, and political commentary and cultural commentary, and it just takes it to another level.”
4 Little Girls (Spike Lee, 1997)
“One of Spike Lee’s best films. He captured the deep personal loss along with the historic impact.”
The Act Of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2013)
“One of the scariest displays of the violent and evil side of human nature. The casualness of murder is frightening.”
Trouble the Water (Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, 2008)
“A film that puts you directly in the middle of the tragedy of Katrina.The physical disaster, racism, poverty and triumph.”
Jiro Dreams of Sushi (David Gelb, 2011)
“What devotion to craft is all about. You see that sushi, for Jiro, is a vocation, his calling.”
Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)
“The profound emotional impact of absolute ‘hope.’ How inspiring it can be and how desperate it can become.”