Directed by George C. Wolfe, Rustin celebrates the life of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. One of his biggest credits was orchestrating the historical March on Washington in 1963.
The film features an all-star cast that includes Colman Domingo, Chris Rock, Glynn Turman, Aml Ameen, CCH Pounder, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Jeffrey Wright, and Audra McDonald. At just 1 hour and 46 minutes, the runtime was perfect to tell the story an oft-bypassed activist whose heroism is left to debate. He never apologized for who he was or what he believed. This type of confidence was inspiring to some but came off as threatening to others. Either way, his leadership and zest for pacifism placed him alongside top brass like Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Ella Baker.
While getting a glimpse of his activism and his romantic life, the apex of his career was supposed to be the March on Washington. The delivery was mild and underwhelming. It was great to learn about all that he did behind the scenes but for all of the discussion and hype brewing in the film, what was supposed to be climactic really… wasn’t.
His activism faced stiff resistance for multiple reasons. For one, he’s a black man in America in the early ’60s and Jim Crow was in its heyday. Second, he was a black, outspoken man who didn’t back down from anyone. Lastly, he was a black, outspoken man who dated men. Or as it was put in the film, “let’s not even mention the unspeakable!” His intelligence was matched by his charisma and those powers combined are why he was able to inspire and excite volunteers.
I give Rustin an 8 out of 10. He’s an important, overlooked character from the civil rights movement and I’m glad he finally had his day in the sun. I just wish the conclusion of the film was strong enough to match the crescendo that builds from anticipation. Glynn Turman and Chris Rock are stellar in this film and don’t be surprised if Colman Domingo wins an award for his performance as Rustin.
Rustin is now available on Netflix
Photos: Courtesy of Netflix