Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin
"Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin," Rustin, directed by George C. Wolfe, 2023, (Netflix)

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General Information

Director(s)

George C. Wolfe

Screenplay By

Julian Breece, Dustin Lance Black

Based On A Story By

Julian Breece

Date Released (Netflix)

November 17, 2023

Genre(s)

Drama

LGBT+

Biopic

Historical (1960s)

Film Length

1 Hour 48 Minutes

Content Rating

Rated PG-13

Noted Characters and Cast

Bayard Rustin

Colman Domingo

Martin Luther King Jr.

Aml Ameen

Tom

Gus Halper

Elias Taylor

Johnny Ramey

Roy Wilkins

Chris Rock

Dr. Anna Hedgeman

CCH Pounder

A. Philip Randolph

Glynn Turman

Film Summary

Focusing on the development and execution of the 1963 March on Washington, we focus on Bayard Rustin. He is the architect that allowed people like Martin Luther King Jr. to become the icon he is known as, but, due to Rustin’s sexuality, even if he had the same, maybe perhaps more charm than MLK, he often found himself relegated to roles behind the scenes.

But, in many ways, that is where Rustin shined. He was passionate about justice, truth, and freedom and wasn’t the best at politics. Hence why he struggled to maintain some of his alliances with leaders who often shunned him, be it due to his former communist ties or sexuality.

Yet, like anyone who has ever been othered, he proved his differences did not lessen his abilities. And it is through the gathering of over 250,000 people, in an event coordinated with one of his few unfailing allies in A. Philip Randolph, Bayard Rustin made icons and made history, and while there were times when his enemies, both Black and otherwise, were against him, he stood tall as he etched his legacy into history.

Content Rating Explanation

  • Dialog: Occasional cursing, including use of the N-word
  • Violence: Police brutality
  • Sexual Content: Implied sexual situations
  • Miscellaneous: Smoking and drinking

Character Descriptions

Please Note: This character guide is not an exhaustive list of every cast member.

Bayard Rustin

Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin
“Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin,” Rustin, directed by George C. Wolfe, 2023, (Netflix)

Probably the most prominent gay man in the civil rights movements of America, Bayard Rustin is an architect. From being one of the handful of people who molded Martin Luther King Jr. into an icon to creating the platform that led to the iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, Rustin is an unsung hero in the various civil rights movements whose efforts are undeniable.

Martin Luther King Jr.

Aml Ameen as Martin Luther King Jr.
“Aml Ameen as Martin Luther King Jr.,” Rustin, directed by George C. Wolfe, 2023, (Netflix)

As portrayed in “Rustin,” Martin is a young man whose influence is growing, and he is challenged by how to sway this power and who to listen to. This especially becomes true as he tries to build alliances with politicians, the NAACP, and others and finds himself questioning who or what may have to be sacrificed for the long-term goals of his mission.

A. Philip Randolph

Glynn Turman as A. Philip Randolph
“Glynn Turman as A. Philip Randolph,” Rustin, directed by George C. Wolfe, 2023, (Netflix)

Rustin’s sole reliable ally who has spent his life organizing and fighting discrimination in the defense industry and also the military.

Tom

Gus Halper as Tom
“Gus Halper as Tom,” Rustin, directed by George C. Wolfe, 2023, (Netflix)

Tom is Bayard’s secretary, who has a crush on him and whom he may or may not have feelings for beyond loyalty.

Elias

Johnny Ramey as Elias Taylor
“Johnny Ramey as Elias Taylor,” Rustin, directed by George C. Wolfe, 2023, (Netflix)

Elias is a member of Roy Wilkins’ board of directors at the NAACP, who was originally a foil for the Million Man March. However, in time, he grows close to Bayard, to the point of them becoming intimate, despite Elias being married and his internal struggles due to his faith.

Roy Wilkins

Chris Rock as Roy Wilkins
“Chris Rock as Roy Wilkins,” Rustin, directed by George C. Wolfe, 2023, (Netflix)

The head of the NAACP who seemingly wanted to bury Bayard any chance he got to keep him from ever becoming the face of the movement.

  • The actor is also known for their role in “Spiral.”

Dr. Anna Hedgeman

A pioneer in the civil rights movement, Dr. Hedgeman was someone whom Bayard brought on to do outreach to religious organizations, only for her to learn the thing she is working so hard to bring to fruition won’t include any Black women speaking.

Collected Quote(s)

The pacifist is opposed to using violence but must be prepared to receive it.
— Bayard Rustin

Do not kill an impulse before it’s born.
— Bayard Rustin

How can you preach salvation, and not wanna save yourself? How can you speak of love when your heart is disconnected from your flesh?
— Bayard Rustin

What you see I cannot conceal.
— Bayard Rustin

I should only associate with those who had as much to lose as I did.
— Bayard Rustin

Discussion Items

Let us know your thoughts in the comments:

  1. What are some gay icons you are waiting for the biopic of? Even though I’m not sure about Billy Porter playing him, I’m very interested in the planned James Baldwin biopic.

Review

Our Rating: Positive (Worth Seeing)Recommended

Notable Performances or Moments

The Writing And Coleman’s Performance

Colman Domingo presents you with a performance that is astounding, whether in a theater or at home. There is no taking your eyes off him and combine his charisma with the writing of Black and Breece? He is unstoppable. He knows when to add that oomph, to allow for a silence, cry, and get emotional without giving you something theatric and unreal.

It’s measured in ways where you are allowed to feel and connect as if Bayard isn’t a stranger but your uncle or friend, and with you knowing his journey, you can see why moments like MLK or Randolph not abandoning him mean so much or him reminding his young followers that, despite his accomplishments, he is no better than anyone. He just so happened to have gotten in the room and talked for the people who can’t get in yet.

And overall, I can’t say whether Domingo may win any accolades for this role or what may come of “Rustin” as a whole, but I fully imagine this being added to the rotation of movies shown in schools, especially as history classes become more inclusive, and Domingo? Oh, just like people talk about who might be the next Denzel or the next Will Smith, I fully expect that by the end of this decade, Colman Domingo will find himself becoming the standard future generations are compared to.

It’s Impactful In Roughly 90 Minutes

Dramas and biopics often are made into these long slugfest with the justification that they need to pack so many important moments and embellish others to do someone justice. “Rustin” doesn’t follow nor believe that. It’s swiftly paced and, minus the credits, around an hour and 37 minutes. All while still having the impact needed for you to understand the lead, appreciate their impact on history, and be left with enough to feel satisfied and interested in learning more.

Highlights

It Removes The Sainthood Of Civil Rights Leaders

It’s very easy to gloss over who many civil rights leaders are because of the results of their life. They were part of a movement that inspired countries beyond their own, and names are continually evoked from elementary to high school, and even college. Some, like Martin Luther King Jr., are even used by the type who’d likely hate him if they had the same position when he was alive, as a means to compare how people should act or what they should do.

But, in “Rustin” there is no desire to paint anyone as saints. MLK Jr., is shown to be someone, when threatened with the rumor of being gay, would drop a mentor like Rustin, despite how ingrained he was with his family, and clearly more than just a colleague. The NAACP? The organization that was founded on the advancement of Black people, we’re reminded that there has always been an asterisk when it comes to organizations like that because respectability politics comes into play.

Heck, Rustin even makes it clear that, in terms of people like Roy Wilkins, while he may believe in advancement for colored people, likely similar to Lincoln who’d unite the country, with or without ending slavery, Wilkins would be fine with enshrining civil rights for Black people, even if that means those who are homosexual got the rights to make them feel equal as well.

Oh, and thanks to Dr. Anna Hedgeman, we’re also reminded how sexist things were and though not much more than an acknowledgement, considering how most civil rights film sweep the sexism, homophobia, and more under the rug, because they want to hold up these familiar names and faces as heroes? It’s wonderful to see these people as flawed, including Rustin, who had no issues messing with a down-low man like Elias Taylor, even with meeting the man’s wife.

On The Fence

At Times, You May Wish It Dove More Into Rustin’s Personal Life

It sometimes could feel that when it came to Bayard, the only time his personal life came into play was when it hinted at his relationships. Be it with his potential latest, in a long line of twinks, such as Tom, or his dalliances with men like Elias. But as for showing who he was before he became a civil rights icon? That person is talked about in stories but not seen or dove into.

Now, because that part of Rustin’s story is not elaborated on beyond being raised a Quaker and his grandparents bringing him up, we get a focus and tight film. But considering Rustin is unlikely to become like Malcolm X or MLK Jr. and have new takes on his story, with notable financial or network backing every few years, it can feel like a missed opportunity. Especially with acknowledging that many likely won’t learn more about Rustin beyond what this film tells them.

Who Is This For?

Those who want a moving biopic that is less about putting its focal character on a pedestal and rather show how that person built their own, and the challenges they had to finish what became their life’s work.

Recommendations

If you like this movie, we recommend:

  1. Euphoria: Mainly due to it being another notable performance from Colman Domingo
  2. Malcolm X: Because it’s Denzel Washington, under the direction of Spike Lee, in what is one of the best movies from both creatives
  3. The Inspection: Another moving film, based on a true story, focusing on a gay Black man navigating a system which he is pushed to feel like he doesn’t belong in, yet he fights for his place and wins over many in the process

Check out our movies page for our latest movie reviews and recommendations.


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Rustin (2023) – Movie Review

Summary

“Rustin” deserves its own pedestal. It doesn’t paint its star as a martyr without flaws. It gives truth to who their would-be allies were and how delicate that alliance was, and while it doesn’t address every last topic and thing you may wonder about Bayard Rustin, in its runtime, it provides enough to get you started and continue learning on your own.

Overall
87%
87%
  • The Writing And Coleman’s Performance - 95%
    95%
  • It’s Impactful In Roughly 90 Minutes - 89%
    89%
  • It Removes The Sainthood Of Civil Rights Leaders - 84%
    84%
  • At Times, You May Wish It Dove More Into Rustin’s Personal Life - 78%
    78%
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User Review
0 (0 votes)

Highlight(s)

  • It Removes The Sainthood Of Civil Rights Leaders
  • It’s Impactful In Roughly 90 Minutes
  • The Writing And Coleman’s Performance

Disputable

  • At Times, You May Wish It Dove More Into Rustin’s Personal Life

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