Sad Departures: Rest In Peace, David Mills

by Latoya Peterson

Far too often, in the blog world, we can sometimes forget to take the time to reach out and connect. Time is short, and we often communicate with friends and comrades through links or twitter @ replies, leaving many relationships in the online realm. Indeed, there are many people whose work I read, whose blogs I follow, whose work I enjoy that write under a pseudonym – this person is unknown to me in real life.

When I discovered the Undercover Black Man blog, it was a few years back. Our relationship, like many online, existed only through reading and links. I read the blog frequently, but not regularly – he would occasionally drop a note to Racialicious, and added us to his blog roll.

On Wednesday, March 30th, Twitter started blowing up with sad news: David Mills, journalist, DC local, and creator, collaborator, and writer on iconic television series like The Corner, Kingpin, the Wire, and the upcoming Treme. I must have been the last person on earth to not know Undercover Black Man’s identity, but when I read Karsh’s tweet linking both identities, a fresh wave of pain arose.

Teresa Wiltz penned a goodbye tribute for the Root, noting:

Mills didn’t do safe. He wrote for NYPD Blue because he had challenged its creator, David Milch. In a writer’s workshop, Milch had said that African Americans didn’t write well for television because they couldn’t adapt their experiences for a general audience. Mills wrote him and said: Try me. Milch became his boss and his long-time mentor.

Nor did Mills play it safe when it came time to creating Kingpin, a short-lived (but well-done) NBC series about a Mexican drug dealer. Kingpin was big and adventurous and filled with Spanish dialogue-a language which Mills, the show’s creator/executive producer, cheerfully admitted he spoke “not one lick.” But a story was a story. As he told me in an interview, “I don’t know anything about Mexican culture. But I know about the human condition. . . . The breakthrough here is, this is a story about the condition of a man’s soul. . . . Often in TV, to get that deeply in the psyche of a character, that character is white. It’s pretty rare that a nonwhite character [gets that kind of attention].”

Mills ran with his visions, and contributed depth and nuance to an environment all too willing to relegate stories about people of color to flat, two-dimensional representations.

David Mills, thank you for all of your work, and thank you for the courage to share it with the world.