Skip to main content

Civil Rights Leader Bayard Rustin Is Finally Getting a Biopic

Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin in 'Rustin' (2023)

African Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin was upholding the very definition of intersectionality years before the term was even coined. He advocated for equality, nonviolence, socialism, and even gay rights. But of all Rustin’s contributions, his greatest would have to be his planning of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which served as the backdrop to his friend and frequent collaborator Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The journey that led to the historic march is now being adapted for our screens courtesy of Netflix, in collaboration with the Obamas’ production company, Higher Ground Productions.

Here’s everything we know about Rustin, including the plot, cast, and when you can watch it.

Rustin, the man behind the march

Born in 1912 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Bayard Rustin hailed from a family of 12 children who were all raised by their grandparents. He helped in forming the Congress of Racial Equality as well as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and, early on in his career, resisted war at every turn. He was imprisoned in 1944 as a conscientious objector for refusing the draft during World War II and would also later form the first Freedom Rides, otherwise known as the Journey of Reconciliation, only a few years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on an Alabama bus. 

Rustin was ahead of his time, and his deep understanding of the complexities and convergence of various issues drove him to fight for “people in trouble,” as he often put it, whomever or wherever they may be. 

The plot of Rustin

The film’s official synopsis doesn’t give much away other than it will focus on the challenges and obstacles Rustin faced that led to the 1963 March on Washington. That said, we can probably safely assume that the film may touch on how he almost wasn’t picked for the job. Prior to the march, several of Rustin’s fellow leaders had issues with his sexuality. Most of them were worried about the attention it would take away from their causes and the damage it could bring. This was not helped by the fact that sometime in 1953, Rustin was convicted of a “public indecency” offense after having sex with two men in a parked car. 

After an endorsement from renowned labor leader A. Philip Randolph that Rustin should organize the march, it was finally agreed that no one but him could figure out the logistics that would best facilitate over a quarter of a million people. 

“The great achievement of the March on Washington is that Rustin had to work from the ground up. There had been many marches from the South … but calling people from all over the country to come to Washington, the capital of the United States, was unheard of,” delegate and lawyer Eleanor Holmes Norton once shared. She was a law student at the time who volunteered for the march and had the opportunity to work with Rustin himself. 

After finally being chosen to helm the march, the next challenge came in the form of a denunciation on the floor of Congress from Sen. Strom Thurmond, a long-standing opponent of the Civil Rights movement. During his speech, Thurmond attacked Rustin’s sexuality, deemed him a draft dodger, and read prior FBI reports regarding his communism. 

In the end, however, the march was a success and Rustin walked up to the microphone to personally read the demands of their movement—a list that would be taken to none other than then President John F. Kennedy. 

The cast of Rustin

Colman Domingo is set to lead the film as Rustin. He previously worked with the film’s director George C. Wolfe on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Some of his prior work includes titles like 2021’s Candyman, HBO’s hit show Euphoria, If Beale Street Could Talk, and Fear the Walking Dead. Joining him are Aml Ameen as Martin Luther King Jr., Carra Patterson as Coretta Scott King, Frank Harts as James Farmer, Glynn Turman as A. Philip Randolph, Bill Irwin as A.J. Muste, and Michael Potts as Cleveland Robinson. The film’s stellar ensemble will also include Chris Rock, CCH Pounder, Jeffrey Wright, Adrienne Warren, Johnny Ramey, Ayana Workman, Gus Halper, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, and Audra McDonald.


Production for the film began in 2021, with both Pittsburgh and Ohio reportedly used during filming. As previously mentioned, the film was produced in collaboration with Michelle and Barack Obama’s Higher Ground. It’s worth mentioning that the former president posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Rustin. Joining in the Obamas on this endeavor are fellow executive producers Mark R. Wright and Alex G. Scott, as well as Bruce Cohen and Tonia Davis.

American playwright and Tony winner George C. Wolfe directed the film. He is known for his work on actor Chadwick Boseman’s final film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, as well as Garden State and Nights in Rodanthe

Rustin‘s release date

Rustin was originally scheduled for release in 2022, but Netflix confirmed in a tweet that it has since been rescheduled for release sometime in 2023.

(featured image: Netflix)

Have a tip we should know? [email protected]

Filed Under:

Follow The Mary Sue:

Danielle is a twenty-something writer and postgrad student based in the Philippines. She loves books, movies, her cat, and traveling. In her spare time, she enjoys shooting 35mm film and going to concerts.