Bayard Rustin will always be relatable to me. He’s the subject of TV episodes and podcasts because of his work as a civil rights activist. Although perhaps, that’s not enough of a draw for a new generation of viewers. So Dustin Lance Black and Julian Breece’s screenplay and George C. Wolfe’s direction of a film about him, which they call Rustin, shows him as just a man having to rebuild bridges that life, and sometimes he, burns down. There’s a particular bridge in question that this version of Bayard (Colman Domingo) must rebuild. That bridge is the one between him and Martin Luther King, Jr. (Aml Ameen).
It’s like the dialogue in Rustin’s first act is all just has supporting characters bugging Bayard about how he needs Martin. Both of them need each other because the former is planning the March on Washington, and he needs the latter. Bayard hears about Martin from personal friends like Ella Baker (Audra McDonald) as well as the head of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins (Chris Rock). Roy has so many issues about Bayard that he may not be vocal about. Specifically, he’s thinking about what the white press will think about his alliance with a gay communist. Others, like Adam Clayton Powell Jr., are more vocal about their homophobia towards Bayard.
I have a few major reservations not bout Bayard Rustin, obviously. But it bears repeating that my introduction to the man is better than this film’s first half, existing as it it’s trying to steal it from its main subject and Domingo. But thankfully, Rustin gets the tension between MLK and its titular hero out of the way. And they eventually work it out like most civilized men do. I also write as a gay half-extrovert that it may while for viewers to vibe with a film where the subject is a gay extrovert. But thank God, Domingo gets to play Bayard’s quiet moments too.
But after those quiet-ish moments are few and far in between in Rustin, which is, surprisingly a good thing. The film, for the most part, reminds viewers that there is no time for rest while fighting for civil rights. If the previous paragraphs didn’t hint to this already, the film also shows the divisions within the civil rights movement that almost stopped their victories form taking place. Yes, the dialogue exposing those divisions feel self-aware. But then again, the dialogue that the audience hears here sometimes reflect the kind of political conversations people have in real life.
Speaking of real life, Rustin can come out – ha – at any time, but it’s also coming out right now when three genodices are taking place. It aloso seems like these protests feel like they’re not doing anything to stop these genocides. There’s also the irony that this film is part of the cataologue of a studio that’s withholding equal pay. And, importantly, that one of its executive producers is a war criminal. But the film passes despite of its context and its own flaws. There’s still something about its recreation of the March on Washington that stirs emotions.
Watch Rustin in select theatres on November 3 and on Netflix on Novemer 17.
- Rated: PG-13
- Genre: 2LGBT+ Films, Biography, Drama
- Release Date: 11/3/2023
- Directed by: George C. Wolfe
- Starring: Audra McDonald, Chris Rock, Colman Domingo, Jeffrey Wright
- Produced by: Barack Obama, Bruce Cohen, George C. Wolfe, Tonia Davis
- Written by: Dustin Lance Black, Julian Breece
- Studio: Higher Ground, Netflix