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  • Writer's pictureTierney Deanne

Rustin


Nearly every American has heard the story of the 1963 March on Washington. Martin Luther King Jr. was among the leaders of the “Big Six” civil rights organizations behind the event. What is lesser known is that a man named Bayard Rustin coordinated the March on Washington in as little as eight weeks. Barack and Michelle Obama produce the story of Rustin in this 1 hour and 48 minute film.

Colman Domingo plays Bayard Rustin. He fully developed into the character with aspects such as missing teeth that Rustin was given by a police officer’s brutality in 1942. Rustin was raised in Quaker faith which gave him the ability and understanding to fight for what is right using peaceful protests instead of violence. He went on to teach those beliefs to as many people as he could reach in order to make a bigger impact.


The movie begins with a fallout between Rustin and King, played by Aml Ameen. As Rustin is outed by other civil rights leaders for being gay, he decides to resign as Martin Lurther King Jr.’s advisor to avoid harassment to MLK for befriending him. As the story goes on, they will later have to come together again to organize one of the greatest movements in history.

Bayard Rustin and Martin Luther King Jr. were friends and coworkers. Rustin taught MLK nonviolent resistance inspired by Gandhi, and advised him on tactics of civil disobedience. It is clear how close Bayard Rustin was to the entire King family. When he tries to find Martin after they had dissolved their business partnership, he is welcomed with open arms by Coretta, Martin’s wife, and called uncle by the children. Although Martin Luther King Jr. let him resign, he never gave up on his friend.


Bayard Rustin is a genius in professional life but he gets beaten down, both physically and emotionally, due to his personal choices. He will not apologize or hide who he is which is a testament to his own strength.


Rustin isn’t as well-known as other civil rights activists because he knew that he had to hide in the shadows due to his sexuality which was illegal at the time. Another civil rights leader, A. Phillip Randolph played by Glynn Turman, rallied behind Bayard Rustin when no one else would, appointing him to be deputy director in order to be sure that he could organize the march.


Rustin came across many difficulties defending himself to the civil rights leaders as well as the general public. In the 1930’s Rustin joined the Young Communist League in support of their commitment to racial justice. He disassociated from the organization in 1941 after they shifted their emphasis away from civil rights activity. Although he was no longer involved, the media was relentless to call him a communist in order to invalidate his beliefs on democracy.


Rustin was so dedicated to the work that he would even pick up trash to prove how every job was important in order to fight for civil rights. Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Medal of Freedom in 2013.


Although the main antagonist is the forces beyond what we see on screen, the character we see to be most hostile toward Rustin is Roy Wilkins the leader of the NAACP, played by Chris Rock. Chris Rock has an extensive career as an actor, but mostly comedic. While he attempts to play such a serious role, he seems very out of place. The only entity pulling you out of an otherwise look back in time.


Rustin was filmed in Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh. Director George C. Wolfe returned to Pittsburgh after previously directing Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, also on Netflix. He brings along the same art department, Supervising Art Director James F. Truesdale and Art Director Travis Kerr, who miraculously take you back in time to the 1960’s. Set decoration by Amy Wells and costume designer Toni-Leslie James also help execute the travel back in time perfectly. Along with visual aspects, the music, by Branford Marsalis, is time fitting and brings out every emotion. It isn’t until the end credits that we get a taste of modern with a special song “Road to Freedom” written and performed by Lenny Kravitz, inspired by Rustin himself and his story.


Rustin was written by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black. Black is an Oscar winner for Milk, a biographical film based on the life of Harvey Milk a politician and gay rights activist.


Rustin is only available to watch on Netflix
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