(director/writer: George C. Wolfe; screenwriters: story & screenplay-Julian Breece, Dustin Lance Black; cinematographer: Tobias Schliessler; editor: Andrew Mondshein; music: Branford Marsalis; cast: Colman Domingo (Bayard Rustin), Chris Rock (Roy Wilkins), Glynn Turman (A. Philip Randolph), CCH Pounder (Dr. Anna Hedgeman), Bill Irwin (A. J. Muste), Ami Ameen (Martin Luther King, Jr.), Gus Halper (Tom), Audra McDonald (Ella Baker); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Bruce Cohen, Tonia Davis, Priya Swaminathan; Netflix; 2023)

“Conventionally and competently made biopic.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Filmmaker George C. Wolfe (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”/”You’re Not You”) directs this conventionally and competently made biopic on the queer Black civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo). Wolfe co-writes it with Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black, who turn in a slogan-driven script for a strong personality who deserved a better fate in history than in being largely ignored today as irrelevant even though he was one of the unsung civil rights leaders.

The film mostly takes place during the heated days of the 1960s civil rights movement. Rustin made a name for himself at the time by organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, while standing in the shadow of his friend Martin Luther King Jr. (Aml Ameen). When those close to MLK cast aspersions on him for his queerness, fearing his relationship would be used by their enemies to slander MLK, the “I Have a Dream Man” broke off their long-standing relationship.

Rustin, not a well-known name today, was a true hero of the civil rights movement, and deserves recognition for his rich contributions to the movement. The film, to its credit, does just that. Rustin believed the pursuit for equality has never been and should never be satisfied with the advancement of any single thing.

The film is enriched by the layered performance of Domingo.

President Obama while in office posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rustin. Barack and Michelle Obama’s movie company, Higher Ground, financed the film.