Directed By George C. Wolfe

Starring – Colman Domingo, Chris Rock, Glynn Turman

The Plot – In 1963 Bayard Rustin (Domingo) ,a political activist is influenced by the the speeches, thoughts and actions of Martin Luther King. When given the task of organizing and coordinating a freedom march of around 100,000 people to the White House he puts his heart and soul into it. His enthusiasm and infectious energy motivates his co workers to put in their best resulting in a successful walk for Civil rights.

Rated PG-13 for thematic material, some violence, sexual material, adult language including racial slurs, brief drug use, and smoking

RUSTIN | Official Trailer | Netflix (


Behind every good man there’s an inspiring force that guides him to his potential, and as Martin Luther King’s right-hand man, Bayard Rustin was responsible for some of the single greatest moments in the fight for freedom, which rightfully earns him a cinematic landscape where his story could properly be told. Strangely enough, the film points to an even greater problem within African-American studies, in that it responsibly brings to light the many people beyond even Bayard who equally played a prominent role in this monumental achievement in history, who have since been washed from history, for one reason or another with their character. For Rustin, it was certainly his color of skin, but more than that his gay lifestyle, and with an original element to the biopic approach that is remarkably refreshing in everything from script structure to scope of the story, gives insight into a distinct time frame in the life of the activist that keeps it from falling for the same old tricks commonly found in the subgenre. As a character study, the film is able to bring to light all of the admirable qualities within Rustin that made him such an admirable advocate, but beyond that the subverted psychological trauma from within him, which is executed breathtakingly with colorless stark and unpredictable edits in flashback sequences that pop up every bit as spontaneously as trauma is known to do. This doesn’t take away from the richness of the presentation in the foreground of the narrative, however, as the film is complimented endlessly by a light and easy tonal consistency, as well as smoothly-flowing jazz musical deposits from Branford Marsalis, that feel plucked directly from Bayard’s uniquely vibrant personality. These admirable qualities give the film’s flavor and audience interpretation so much depth and soulful swing in its appeal that surprisingly approach the film’s conflict with layers of levity, keeping the atmospheric range of Rustin’s story at an approachable consistency that doesn’t always require the kind of tension and overtly-dramatic impulses that so many biopics continuously call upon, instead zeroing in on the fiery charisma of its titular protagonist that churns itself impactfully from a next level performance from Domingo at the film’s benefit. While everything previously mentioned is integral to the experience of this story, none of it shines with the kind of merit or tenacity of Colman’s commitment to craft, as he inscribes a soulful consciousness to Bayard Rustin that transmits effortlessly to the integrity of the portrayal, undoubtedly earning him the kind of noteworthy acclaim from the Academy that has tragically alluded him to this point. While Domingo dominates during scenes of tense urgency in Rustin’s race against the clock, with amplified panache, it’s honestly the subdued and sensual moments during the film that are most endearing to his appeal, appraising a heartfelt innocence and underlining vulnerability to the character that can’t be previously conveyed during scenes where Rustin is asked to be stoic against the flames of adversity. In addition to Domingo’s decorated turn, the engagement is also complimented by reputable work from the comforting camraderie of Aml Ameen’s thankless work as Dr. King, the coldly caclulating chill of an against type antagonist turn from Jeffrey Wright, and even familiarity obscurring work from Chris Rock, which for the first time in his career allowed me to see him as the character he was portraying, instead of the bigger than life presence he commands as the world’s biggest comedian.


Uniqueness finds its way to many compelling aspects of the script, but one such arc didn’t attain the kind of all-out access that I was hoping for, especially since it plays such a prominent motivation towards Rustin’s own ideals, and that’s the love angle with white lover Tom, portrayed by Gus Halper. While the script occasionally taps into the reality of their situation, with one such moment bringing aspects of jealousy and mistrust between them, the film simply doesn’t explore it with the kind of attention of exploration that I feel it deserved, especially being of two distinctly different races during a time when interracial relationships were universally frowned upon. In fact, This is perhaps the film’s biggest mishap, as we get a thorough depiction of who Rustin was in the face of his political adversaries, but the man behind the personality is rarely ever utilized, and considering this is a biopic first and foremost, I can admire that the production preserved a selfless approach in Rustin sharing the spotlight with his peers, but with a 102 minute run time, it left little room to convey the aching man behind the activism. Beyond this, my only other issue with the film pertained to the obviousness in some of the conversations, which occasionally felt like they were zeroing in on key points of the plot to instill permanence in the minds of the audience. This leads to some of the dialogue feeling ripe with artificiality, especially in the way its bullet points feel wedged with improper aggresiveness, leading to a few scenes during the engagement that had my interests trailing off from lazy indulgences.

“Rustin” does occasionally error on the side of caution, with only half of the advertised exploration of Bayard Rustin that was initially promised but does thankfully avoid much of the biopic cliches by producing a unique scope in structure, inside of a light and airy atmosphere to work cohesively with Colman Domingo’s fiery range. It’s not just an entertaining film, but also an important one, full of acknowledgement to the vital figures of the past that fought to cement our present, where equality belongs to everyone.

My Grade: 7/10 or B

2 thoughts on “Rustin

  1. Nicely put! This absolutely is a great showcase for Colman’s range; I thought he portrayed Rustin with amazing charm, as you beautifully stated. However, I didn’t think it stood out too much beyond a character study. This could also be due to seeing plenty of films from this era already. I’m very happy he got the GG nomination! Let’s cross fingers he collects the Oscar nom too? Wonderful review!

  2. I did hear some whispers about this one, especially regarding Colman Domingo’s lead performance which I’m happy to hear lives up to the hype. It does sound weirdly short for a biopic with a lot to cover which is my main concern though it looks like it did try in some areas. If we weren’t so close to the end of the year then I’d probably try to give this a watch, especially with your strong critique, but I have the rest of my watches mapped out for the rest of the year. I’ll probably check it out though if Domingo gets an Oscar nomination. Nice work!

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