Derrick Dunn

Derrick Dunn

Colman Domingo elevates routine script in Rustin

DGA Award and five-time Tony Award winner director George C. Wolfe follows up his highly enjoyable 2020 August Wilson adaption of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom with a biopic in Rustin from Netflix. Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black collaborated on the screenplay based on a story by Breece.

Colman Domingo plays the role of Bayard Rustin, the mastermind behind the iconic March on Washington in 1963. Despite his significant contributions, Rustin, an openly gay man, was relegated to the background. As a trusted confidant of Martin Luther King Jr. (Aml Ameen), Rustin was an exceptional activist and organizer, unapologetically challenging authority and standing up for his beliefs, desires, and identity. He made history, but unfortunately, his accomplishments were overshadowed and forgotten.

I knew the basics of Rustin’s story from the 2003 documentary Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. I’m also a fan of biopics, so I was looking forward to the film. Rustin avoids warts and all / birth-to-death routes for its structure and keeps the runtime short. Kudos to the filmmakers for delving into his struggles, relationships, and efforts to fight for equal rights without being overly preachy. The story is set against the backdrop of the political and social climate of the 1960s to significant effect.

The key strength of Rustin lies in the lead performance. Coleman Domingo delivers a compelling portrayal of Rustin, capturing both his charisma and determination and his vulnerability and humanity. In a less crowded year, Domingo would be an early favorite for the Gold, but one thing is sure: the film should raise his profile even more and allow for more lead roles in his future.

As for the supporting actors, no one gets a chance to shine in the fashion Domingo does, but they are still solid. The melanin talent portraying historical figures following Domingo’s lead includes Chris Rock as Roy Wilkins, Glynn Turman as A. Philip Randolph, Jeffrey Wright as Adam Clayton Powell, and Aml Ameen as MLK. I appreciate the director’s decision to cast a less well-known actor for the role of MLK, as it kept me in the moment.

Wolfe’s direction effectively captures the spirit of the era and the essence of Harvey Rustin’s psyche. The cinematography beautifully recreates the atmosphere of the sixties and effectively blends archival footage with the narrative. A veteran of the stage, Wolfe’s direction allows the audience to connect with the lead character on an emotional level and feel the impact when he hits a barrier.

The screenplay, penned by Dustin Lance Black, manages to steer clear of the typical biopic tropes. However, it plays it safe, and if it were in the hands of a lesser actor, the dialogue could have seemed contrived. Fortunately, Domingo’s performance brings it all together.

Clichés withstanding, director George C. Wolfe and his star Colman Domingo deliver a well-rounded and authentic portrayal of Bayard Rustin, highlighting his personal and political struggles and showing the complexities of his relationships. Domingo’s performance is a profoundly moving portrayal of a trailblazer and a reminder of the power of activism and the impact one person can make.

Final Grade: B+

Rustin opens in limited theaters this Friday and hits Netflix on November 17th.

Movie Clappers

More reviews to explorer


There’s no charm in the city for B’More Careful

Author Shannon Holmes turns director to bring his street-lit classic to the small screen in B’More Careful. Growing up on the cold, mean, inner-city streets of Baltimore is Netta (Phenomenal Jewel), leader of an all-girl clique called the Pussy Pound. Their mission is to fleece men out of money by any means necessary. The other members of the club include Mimi (Kimia Workman), Rasheeda (Christinia Cartier), and Fila (Deja Stevens).

Invincible Season 2 sticks the landing

The highly anticipated second season of the famous Prime Video series Invincible, created by The Walking Dead’s Robert Kirkman, has finally arrived after a long wait. Based on a Skybound/Image comic by Kirkman, Cory Walker, and Ryan Ottley, Invincible is an adult animated superhero show that tells the story of seventeen-year-old Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), who is just like any other guy his age, except for the fact that his father is the most powerful superhero on the planet, Omni-Man (J.K. Simmons).