by Hope Madden and George Wolf
In 2020, filmmaker George C. Wolfe used theatrical set design combined with snappy, rhythmic editing to contextualize the mournful, defiant music of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Wolfe’s style remains much the same for his biopic of trailblazing civil rights activist Bayard Rustin. And once again, the drama sings.
That’s much thanks to a soaring performance by Colman Domingo. A character actor known for decades of memorable performances, Domingo takes the lead in Rustin and owns the film from frame one. Vulnerability and resolve pass across Domingo’s face in a performance the should absolutely be remembered this coming award season.
He’s not alone. Support work from Audra McDonald, CCH Pounder, Glynn Turman, Aml Ameen and a scorching cameo from Jeffrey Wright bring enough acting mastery to make Chris Rock’s turn seem a bit out of out of place.
Rustin was a key figure in the 1963 March on Washington, battling racism and homophobia as he mobilized scores of volunteers, advocacy groups and sometimes competing interests.
Ands Wolfe, working from a script by Julian Breece (When They See Us) and Dustin Lance Black (Milk, When We Rise), keeps his film grounded in the political realities that not only mark American history but American present. Fueled by an electric performance, Wolfe’s production saturates that history with undeniable life and passion.
The film consistently moves with the energy and staging of a musical. It’s an approach that should help hold sustained interest for home streaming, but one that results in a broad-brushed, sometimes hurried feel to the important matters at hand.
But Rustin should invite further study about a man who deserves it. And while doing so, it reminds us that the fight for equality doesn’t end until it includes all of us, and that every victory depends on the day-to-day groundwork of warriors we may never get to know.
Plus, Colman Domingo. Get to know him.