Rustin Review: Colman Domingo Elevates a Conventional Biopic

Colman Domingo’s Captivating Performance as Bayard Rustin
In the sea of Civil Rights dramas, *Rustin* brings to light the story of Bayard Rustin, the mastermind behind the 1963 March on Washington, portrayed with compelling depth by Colman Domingo. Directed by George C. Wolfe and produced by the Obamas, the film traces Rustin’s struggle to organize the historic march while grappling with the public scrutiny of his sexuality. Despite its formulaic approach, Domingo’s performance makes *Rustin* a noteworthy addition to the genre.
A Star-Studded Cast with Domingo at the Helm
Domingo, who has steadily built an impressive résumé, delivers a standout performance as Bayard Rustin. His portrayal is rich with empathy, warmth, and a palpable sense of the character’s inner conflicts. Transforming into Rustin with missing teeth and a slight lisp, Domingo captures both the man’s unwavering commitment to the Civil Rights Movement and his unapologetic stance on his sexuality. His charm and vivacity effectively illustrate how Rustin galvanized support despite constant rumors about his personal life.
Supporting Cast and Their Roles
The film features a strong ensemble cast, including Audra McDonald as Ella Baker, Adrienne Warren as Claudia Taylor, and Glynn Turman as A. Philip Randolph. While these actors deliver solid performances, the spotlight firmly remains on Domingo. Aml Ameen’s portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. is unremarkable, and Jeffrey Wright’s turn as the antagonistic Congressman Adam Clayton Powell borders on overly theatrical. Chris Rock, cast as NAACP leader Roy Wilkins, is particularly miscast, struggling to shed his comedic persona in a serious role.
A Paint-by-Numbers Biopic
*Rustin* is penned by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black, the latter known for his Oscar-winning screenplay for *Milk*. However, the film’s narrative swings between being an overstuffed historical recount and a somewhat sentimental tale of inspiration. While it admirably brings Rustin’s contributions to the forefront, it doesn’t break much new ground in the genre. The decision to recreate iconic moments of the March on Washington, such as Mahalia Jackson’s performance and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, feels more like a distraction than a tribute, detracting from the film’s overall impact.
The Obamas’ Influence and Wolfe’s Direction
The involvement of the Obamas, with their centrist political approach, perhaps explains the film’s conventional style. Barack Obama’s personal connection to Rustin, whom he posthumously awarded the Medal of Freedom in 2013, adds a layer of significance to the project. Yet, Wolfe’s inherently theatrical direction often makes the film feel stagey, with much of the action and performances appearing overly dramatic, except for Domingo’s nuanced portrayal.
Conclusion: A Solid Yet Safe Biopic
While *Rustin* is a conventional biopic that adheres to familiar tropes, Colman Domingo’s mesmerizing performance elevates it above its formulaic roots. The film successfully brings much-needed recognition to Bayard Rustin’s pivotal role in the Civil Rights Movement, though it may not offer a groundbreaking cinematic experience.

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