Starring Colman Domingo , Chris Rock, Jeffrey Wright, Audra McDonald
Directed by George C Wolfe
Rating: *** ½
To be homosexual, and a black civil-rights activist,and that two in the ‘swinging’ 1960s when swinging both ways was not permissible. that’s not an easy life!
Miraculously Rustin is a breezy easy film about the gay activist in the 60s Bayard Rustin who was a close ally of Martin Luther King until conspiratorial whispers about their intimacy began sliding out of closed rooms.
King is shown doing what any right-thinking politician would do: he dissociates himself completely from the scandal and its source.
There is a muted moment of insinuated mirth when Rustin tells his associates he no longer has Martin Luther King’s phone number. Chris Rock, who plays Rustin’s associate Roy Wilkins’s sarcastic response to Rustin’s righteous response is priceless.
Chris Rock is a surprise. Dropping his standup antics he is solemn and disguised behind spectacles as the cautionary voice in the enthusiastic congregation of Black leaders who organized the March On Washington in 1963 in which 200,000 people gathered in front of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to call for an end to racial discrimination in the USA.
The fluffy yet profound biopic moves swiftly and effortlessly back-and-forth between Rustin’s rather messed-up private life and his public life, and how the two impinge on one another. While in public Rustin’s words and action were considered epochal,in the privacy of his home he was quite capable of cheating on his (white) partner Tom(Gus Halper)who had surrendered to Rustin and his cause unconditionally in spite of being of the ‘other’ colour.
And yet Rustin has a sneaky improper affair with Elias Taylor(Johhny Ramey) which hurts both Tom and Elias’ wife .
This kind of moral transgression humanizes Rustin, and goes a long way in making his struggle for racial equality believable,and even likeable.
Rustin is a delightfully blithe take on a subject that is fraught with political undertones. Director George C Wolfe and his brilliant writers(Julian Breece, Dustin Lance Black) take off into a sphere of energetic exploration using politics and racism as the core of the conflict.
The performances by all is a joy to experience. Colman Domingo in the title role is a revelation. We have cameos by actors playing Dr Anna Hedgeman and gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. No one is in this to stand out. Blending into the Black tapestry has never been a more edifying experience.