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Rustin: Getting to the True Heart of the March on Washington

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Movie info via Rotten Tomatoes:

The architect of 1963’s momentous March on Washington, Bayard Rustin was one of the greatest activists and organizers the world has ever known. He challenged authority, never apologized for who he was, what he believed, or who he desired. And he did not back down. He made history, and in turn, he was forgotten. Directed by DGA Award and five-time Tony Award winner George C. Wolfe and starring Emmy Award winner Colman Domingo, Rustin shines a long overdue spotlight on the extraordinary man who, alongside giants like the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell Jr., and Ella Baker, dared to imagine a different world, and inspired a movement in a march toward freedom.


Review:

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The challenge of a good biopic is not showing the great man of his time. Those are easy films to make. The real challenge is to show the second big man, behind the great man or a great event such as the March on Washington of 1963. Everyone knows the speech that MLK gave, not everyone knows the man who organized the event, Bayard Rustin.

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The flamboyance of Rustin, demands an actor who can capture that extravagance, where his every word and gesture can sink or raise not the character,the story, but also the film. Colman Domingo is the lightning bolt that energizes this portrait of the gay civil rights activist, pacifist, ex-con, singer, lutist, socialist and close advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There would be no I have a dream speech if Rustin hadn’t organized the event and gathered the crowd that listened to King’s sermon on the mount moment, literally America’s sermon on the mount moment.

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Rustin thus is a reclamation and celebration. He is properly the center of the history he helped make, a history that has been redacted partly because he was an openly gay man who challenged convention and law. Here, King is the side event. It’s only intent in defining the how of the defining moment. The opening scenes where Rustin persuades King of the necessity of the March is both an exercise in forceful persuasion and righteousness and social consciousness, the whole civil rights movement set on the right path.

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Rustin only slightly sags under the weight of its central personality. It’s a mini series crammed into a two hour tribute. it can fail to do justice to Rustin while its’s trying to do justice to history. His life story emerges in drips and drabs. He is stuck in an anemic gay love story, an abbreviated personal history, and cameos of major civil rights players played broadly by talented black actors that are slightly miscast. For an unconventional man, Rustin can be strangely conventional.

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Yet, Rustin does succeed in moving the audience with its images of hundred of thousand demanding their righteous moment of equality. It’s optimism is both quaint and effective. There’s a mourning for the loss of the American soul. Also, applause. Colman Domingo seizes the screen with his vibrant physicality, urgency, yearning, sincerity, lucidness, persuasiveness, his almost effortless delivery. He carries the history and the movie almost by himself.

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Rustin gets a 3.5 out of 5 or a B+. It’s streaming on Netflix.

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Credits:

Directed by

George C. Wolfe

Screenplay by

Story by

Julian Breece

Produced by

Starring

Cinematography

Tobias A. Schliessler

Edited by

Andrew Mondshein

Music by

Branford Marsalis

Production

companies

Distributed by

Netflix

Release dates

  • August 31, 2023(Telluride)
  • November 3, 2023(United States)

Running time

106 minutes[1]

Country

United States

Language

English


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Comments

2 responses to “Rustin: Getting to the True Heart of the March on Washington”

  1. Priscilla Bettis Avatar

    Fabulous review, Jonathan. I didn’t know about the man behind the March.

  2. JONATHAN MOYA Avatar

    Now you do. I hope you watch the film.

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