The Reel Review
Civil rights activist Bayard Rustin battles both racism and homophobia as he helps change the course of history by orchestrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 March on Washington. Colman Domingo stars in this long overdue historical LGBTQ+ biopic about the mostly unheralded civil rights leader.
Domingo becomes Rustin in this biopic from five-time Tony award-winning director George C. Wolfe, giving an inspiring portrait of the Black gay activist who was unapologetic about who he was and was the clever mastermind of many of the nation’s inspiring marches during the Civil Rights Era. The film showcases a who’s who of Black actors – Aml Ameen as MLK Jr., Audra McDonald, CCH Pounder, Chris Rock, Glynn Turman and an almost unrecognizable Jeffrey Wright as Baptist pastor and New York State Representative Adam Clayton Powell. Da’Vine Joy Randolph (The Holdovers) even has a cameo during the march as Mahalia Jackson.
The chief complaint about Rustin is the story itself. It just doesn’t have the weight or proper amount of gravitas fitting to an individual who was a key member of the Civil Right Movement, while himself fighting homophobia within the Black community. Instead it is a dull, box-ticking historical account that relies on name dropping key figures, along with an over-reliance on clichés. More substance about Rustin and his impact on Martin Luther King Jr. would have made this a much stronger film.
• One of the producing partners for Rustin is Higher Ground Productions, which is owned by President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle. President Obama posthumously awarded Bayard Rustin the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2013. Obama presented Rustin’s award to Walter Naegle, Rustin’s surviving longtime romantic partner.
• Glynn Turman, who appears in Rustin as A. Philip Randolph, was 12 years old when he co-starred in Lorraine Hansberry’s 1959 Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun alongside Sidney Pottier and Ruby Dee, who both attended the 1963 March on Washington.
• Director George C. Wolfe also worked with Colman Domingo and Glynn Turman in 2020’s Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.