Rustin Movie Review

Rustin movie poster

You’ve heard of MLK, but have you heard of Bayard Rustin? I hadn’t, which made the new civil rights drama Rustin enlightening. Buttressed by a fiery performance by Colman Domingo, the fast-paced film is an entertaining if not quite powerful portrayal of the activist.

Set in 1963 and directed by George C. Wolfe, Rustin follows the man’s efforts to coordinate the massive two-day March on Washington, which involved bussing in thousands of people from various states and battling various obstacles, from both the government and other activists.

Rustin is essentially Domingo’s show. Not to diminish the rest of the cast, but Domingo is operating on another plane of existence here; the man flexes, fires, and feasts off the material handed to him.

The one problem is he’s stuck in a glorified event logistics movie. Rustin does a great job portraying the man, but the rest of the movie is given second thrift. Though there are a lot of recognizable historical names and actors involved, practically everyone is written to support the machinations at work–not to give the titular character someone to work with or the actor to act against. Pulling off the event he did was an astounding achievement, but I would have rather seen Domingo in a movie where the event planning is treated as just as important; doing so won’t have reduced the character but heightened it. Picture Domingo as Bayard Rustin but in an almost thriller of sorts, where the event is at risk at every turn and he’s twisting, turning, and pulling strings to make it all work in the end. There’s a lot of talking about it all, but the challenges seem to exist more for the characters to discuss and debate than actually do.

Rustin is a lean, efficiently told movie that serves its primary purpose–to give Colman Domingo a platform–but while it adequately brings to life the title character, it doesn’t quite do him justice.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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