Rotten Tomatoes (3.5/5), Metacritic (7/10), Letterboxd (3.5/5), Imdb.com (7/10), TMDB.com (3.5/5)
Unsung heroes often don’t get their day. Fortunately, however, for civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo), principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, he’s finally getting his due in this new biopic about the many challenges he faced in bringing this event into being. The flamboyant, outspoken, Black gay organizer faced much opposition to his proposal, including, surprisingly enough, from an African-American community that was apprehensive about the message his appointment and presence would send to a still-reluctant public in its support for equal rights measures, including such noteworthy figures as NAACP leader Roy Wilkins (Chris Rock) and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (Jeffrey Wright). Things were even tense at times between Rustin and his longtime friend, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (Aml Ameen), for whom Rustin once served as his chief aide and advisor. Then there was Rustin’s sexual orientation, a matter he didn’t exactly hide, especially in his less-than-discreet relationship with married preacher Elias Taylor (Johnny Ramey), something other activists feared could undo all the progress they had made up to that time. But, as a determined champion, Rustin forged ahead, despite these hardships, culminating in the largest peaceful protest ever staged in the nation’s capital. To the film’s credit, director George C. Wolfe has compiled an informative period piece biography, even if the approach is somewhat conventional and, admittedly, gets off to a rather rocky start in the first half hour. However, that’s made up for by a strong second half and the picture’s powerhouse cast, including Domingo (a strong Oscar nominee contender), Wright and Ameen, as well as Glynn Turman and CCH Pounder in fine supporting performances. While this offering may not be everything it could have been, “Rustin” nevertheless reminds us of what so many people fought so hard to achieve – and why it’s so important that we strive to protect those accomplishments against backsliding and those who might seek to undermine the fulfillment of those much-cherished attainments.