Rustin Peace? Never!



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.

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