Netflix Film Shines Light on Unsung Civil Rights Leader Bayard Rustin

Colman Domingo in Netflix's 'Rustin'
Colman Domingo in Netflix’s ‘Rustin’ (Image credit: Netflix)

Netflix revisits the historic 1963 March on Washington from the perspective of the event’s organizer Bayard Rustin in its original movie Rustin, premiering November 17.

The George Wolfe-directed film stars Colman Domingo as the civil rights leader, who, alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Rep. Adam Clayton Powell and Ella Baker, inspired a march toward freedom, according to Netflix. A staunch supporter of nonviolent protest, the film chronicles Rustin’s unyielding activism and fight for equality as he challenged authority while never apologizing for who he was, what he believed and who he desired, Netflix said.

Produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground production company, Rustin also stars Chris Rock, Glynn Turman, Gus Halper, CCH Pounder, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Jeffrey Wright and Audra McDonald.

Turman, who plays civil rights activist A. Phillip Randolph in the film, said in a 2022 Multichannel News interview that he was excited to work on the project with Wolfe and Domingo, who both teamed with Turman for Netflix’s Oscar-winning film Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

“I can’t wait for people to see Colman do a wonderful job in portraying Rustin,” Turman said.

Indeed, several reviews of Rustin tout both the film and Domingo's performance as the unsung civil rights activist. Rolling Stone said that the film's director, Wolfe, "has pushed an unsung hero out of the shadows and into the spotlight, but what’s truly amazing is how he manages to do it twice at once, for both the subject and the film’s star.”

The Daily Beast said Rustin “is a thrilling, defining moment for the gay civil rights activist history books too often ignore, with a Colman Domingo performance that should have Oscar calling.”

The New York Times said in a mixed review of the film: “Five minutes into the movie, and you’re hooked; everything works in this punchy opener. Yet while Domingo …and most of the rest of the cast keep charging forward, the movie soon sags under the weight of its central personality and the monumental history it condenses in under two eventful hours.”

R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.