Film: “Rustin” starring Colman Domingo (2023)
The 1963 March on Washington was a remarkable event in many ways. Drawing over 200,000 attendees from every state in the Union, it was the largest mass gathering to date of people dedicated to the cause of civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I have a dream speech” before the Lincoln Memorial, and celebrities from Harry Belafonte to Mahalia Jackson to Charlton Heston cheered him on.
The movie “Rustin,” directed by George C. Wolfe, pays homage to the man largely forgotten for conceiving the idea of the March in the first place: Bayard Rustin.
As played by Oscar Best Actor nominee Colman Domingo, BR was a charismatic, outspoken ball of fire whose dedication to justice extended far before 1963. During WW II, he spoke up for interned Japanese-Americans; he organized Freedom Rides in the 1950s; and he helped to organize the Southern Leadership Conference to strengthen MLK’s leadership.
So why has BR lived in the shadows for so long? Because he was gay.
Additionally, because BR held such sway with Dr. King (Aml Ameen), he was demonized by more establishment Black leaders. These included Roy Wilkins (Chris Rock, looking very uncomfortable playing a heavy) and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell (the illustrious Jeffrey Wright who needs only a black hat to appear more evil.)
Meanwhile, BR was still cruising for anonymous sex, while simultaneously conducting love affairs with Tom Kahn, a young aid (Gus Halper) and Elias Taylor (Johnny Ramey), a closeted married man who hoped to become minister in his father-in-law’s church.
BR, who died in 1987, eventually settled down with Walter Naegel, who spoke when BR was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2014.
“Being black, being homosexual, being a political radical, that's a combination that's pretty volatile and it comes along like Halley's Comet,” Naegel said. “Bayard's life was complex, but at the same time, I think it makes it a lot more interesting.”
Enough said. See the movie that honors the man. Screenplay by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black (“Milk). Streaming on Netflix. Happy Black History Month.
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