Colman Domingo plays civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, an organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, in the Netflix film Rustin. Domingo said he felt a responsibility to introduce Rustin to modern audiences.
“It was a great calling honestly,” Domingo said at Deadline’s Contenders Film: Los Angeles event. “History put him in the darkness because he was so full in his experience in the world and that was a challenge to many folks. So I knew this was an opportunity to pull him out of the shadows.”
Domingo said he suspects the reason Rustin is not as well-known historically as Martin Luther King, Jr. is because Rustin was gay. Domingo himself remembered discovering Rustin at 19 at his school’s African American Student Union.
“Then I questioned my whole education because I didn’t know about him,” Domingo said. “It made me realize I need to interrogate my history at all times and look at history clearly. I get the opportunity to share this man, not only him but characters like Ella Baker, A. Philip Randolph that I discovered. We need to know that and also we need to inspire.”
Composer Branford Marsalis said Rustin won’t be limited to those interested in history or “Black stories.” Marsalis combined big band, small group, orchestral and one Elizabethan song (with lyrics by Sting) for the film’s period piece score.
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“To me, it’s not a Black story,” Marsalis said. “It’s a human story. Black folks are in it. It’s not one of those films that turns into a heavy handed documentary that bangs you over the head. It’s an uplifting story. People will know about Bayard the way we know a lot of things, through movies.”
Barack and Michelle Obama produced Rustin. Domingo did an impeccable President Obama as he described the Zoom call the production had.
“That’s just a remarkable thing when you’re waiting on a Zoom and waiting for President Obama and Michelle Obama to show up,” Domingo said. “They were going, ‘We’re really going to get through this. I want you to stay healthy. I want you to look after each other. Remember why we’re doing this. All right, Colman, I’ll see you on the trail.’ Absolutely, Mr. President.”
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Domingo said he hopes seeing Rustin organize in the ‘60s encourages viewers to keep hope alive during 2023 world crises.
“It’s an opportunity to inspire people now to feel like all is not hopeless,” Domingo said. “We watch the news every day. We’re living through some very dark times and painful times. Rustin is a clarion call. Ordinary people can do extraordinary things. All you need to do is what’s in front of you today. Be kind, generous, form coalitions. People who organized the March on Washington were 19 years old. They were not old stodgy men. That’s what Rustin did. That’s the spirit in which I led this film.”
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Check back Monday for the panel video.
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