Rustin is now streaming on Netflix.
The secret to George C. Wolfe’s success is the buildup of the characters or figures as they reach their breaking point. Case in point: there may not be any more devastatingly effective scene where Chadwick Boseman’s Levee questions God’s plan that could be so cruel.
While Levee in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom was a young man broken by life in such a short period, Wolfe’s latest, Rustin, is about a man who came out on the other side—scarred, quite literally. However, he is no less weathered by the injustices of a life lived in the shadow of inequality.
And that’s where Rustin gets its steady amount of juice. A political chess match on micro, mess, and macro levels. Fighting injustice for his community, colleagues, and rival politicians with their agendas while keeping the course for one goal in mind.
Rustin Plot Summary and Review
The factual, true story follows Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo), a radical who wanted equality and human rights for all. A gay man and a prominent member of the LGBTQ+ community, Rustin was a key player in the NAACP and a close advisor to the one and only Martin Luther King, Jr. (Aml Ameen).
That all begins to change once Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (Jeffrey Wright) spreads a rumor about King’s sexuality. The result is that King distances himself from his confidant. Then, to make matters worse, the president of the NAACP, Roy Wilkins (Chris Rock), pressured Rustin into resigning.
However, this frees Rustin from political restrictions. He began to spark a youth movement for equal rights, with Rustin encouraging the motivated group to think outside the box. This radical approach to social justice movements led to the legendary March on Washington, which is credited with helping pass the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Colman Domingo gives one of the year’s very best performances in Rustin
Wolfe’s film, like his others, has a beautiful sense of time and place. Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom takes place after the Great Migration and during a period after the fall of Reconstruction and the onset of the Great Depression. Rustin takes place smack in the middle of the civil rights movement and on the eve of the first legislation on the subject.
Rustin was written by Julian Breece (When They See Us) and Dustin Lance Black (Milk, Under the Banner of Heaven). Both scribes shape Rustin’s story and struggle through the lens of two social justice fronts: racial equality and gay rights. Their script is expertly paced. In addition, the dialogue has a “rat-a-tat-tat-tat” quality that makes scenes fly by with profound effect.
Of course, none of this could have been held together without the remarkable turn by the veteran Wolfe player Colman Domingo as Rustin. He is a revelation. His voice reverberates throughout the picture like a beacon of justice for the now-protected social classes. His portrayal of Bayard Rustin is complex and full of human flaws. Domingo’s Rustin is a cheat, even arrogant, and full of hubris.
Is Netflix’s Rustin Worth Watching?
George C. Wolfe’s Rustin is worth watching because Domingo’s interpretation of the material is complex and full of human flaws. Domingo’s Rustin is a cheat, even arrogant, full of hubris, but never ashamed. And that’s why, essentially, the movie works, because he lives his life without hiding.
Rustin is a man of great integrity and, for all his abrasive flamboyance, has no trouble finding empathy for his ordinary human being. As he tells a fellow gay man in the closet, he never gave any part of himself up. If Rustin did, it would mean giving up your freedom or autonomy.
Without Domingo, Rustin’s third act is a fairly standard biopic picture that lacks a true showstopping ending for such an extraordinary accomplishment. Frankly, it has a finish that screams television movie of the week. Yet, that may be Rustin’s point. There’s no job in the fight for civil rights beneath you or me.
Rustin isn’t about the glitz, glamour, or fame but the grassroots battle that’s an effort that’s never done.