'Rustin' review: Colman Domingo is indeed Oscar-worthy 2
Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin in 'Rustin.' Netflix

'Rustin' review: Colman Domingo is indeed Oscar-worthy

Bayard Rustin was a remarkable man who mainly worked behind-the-scenes, gifted with mad organizational skills and acerbic wit in his language.
Fred Hawson | Feb 04 2024

Even as the Supreme Court already declared segregation unconstitutional in 1954, black Americans still suffered severe discrimination from the white majority. In 1960, while planning for a 5,000-man black rights protest in Los Angeles, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo) got into an unexpected conflict with their star speaker Martin Luther King, Jr. (Aml Ameen), which led to their estrangement for the next 3 years.

In 1963, Rustin thought up of a massive two-day demonstration with 100,000 people composed of delegates from the church, labor, civil rights in Washington, D.C. NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins (Chris Rock) did not support his plans. So Rustin's backer, esteemed union organizer A. Philip Randolph (Glynn Turman), advised him to seek King's help again, to restore their powerful partnership to lead the march.

This film was not only about Rustin's signature tooth gap and political activities, but also about his homosexuality, which was held against him by his enemies, like black congressman Adam Clayton Powell (Jeffrey Wright). There were two men Rustin dallied with here: the white activist Tom (Gus Halper) whom he invited to be his assistant; and an ambitious pastor Elias Taylor (Johnny Ramey) who was just inherited an entire parish from his father-in-law. 

Front and center in this cast is Colman Domingo, who bagged an Oscar nomination for Best Actor. Bayard Rustin was a remarkable man who mainly worked behind-the-scenes, gifted with mad organizational skills and acerbic wit in his language. Domingo brought him to life with such a nuanced verve and boldness that would engage people to listen to his every word and more importantly, to follow his directives. 

As Randolph, Glynn Turman, with his steely eyes and robust voice, commanded authority when he spoke, a man whom Rustin had the good fortune to be his main backer. As Cong. Powell, Jeffrey Wright had a screen presence so strong, you knew that his underhanded trove of gossip can upend the best of plans. Chris Rock plays against type as Roy Wilkins, the NAACP leader who thought ill of all of Rustin's plans. 

As Ella Baker, Audra McDonald had a motherly presence where Rustin can be himself, yet in the same scene, also projected her wisdom and fortitude as a civil rights pioneer. Under unrecognizable makeup, CCH Pounder played Dr. Anna Hedgeman, who volunteered to coordinate with all religious organizations during the march. Da'Vine Joy Randolph sang a hymn as Mahalia Jackson, as did Carra Patterson as Coretta Scott King. 

This follows the footsteps of civil rights films like "Selma" (Ava DuVernay, 2014), which was nominated for Oscar Best Picture. This new one by George C. Wolfe was produced by former President Barack (and Michelle) Obama, who awarded Rustin a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom 25 years after his death, 50 years after the March. Its final song, Lenny Kravitz's "Road to Freedom," seemed to be a shoo-in nominee for Best Original Song (but fell short). 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."