Colman Domingo Revives Bayard Rustin's Legacy in 'Rustin'

Composer Marsalis Elevates 'Rustin' with Eclectic Score.

by Nouman Rasool
Colman Domingo Revives Bayard Rustin's Legacy in 'Rustin'
© Faraone/GettyImages

In the Netflix original "Rustin," Colman Domingo delivers a captivating performance as Bayard Rustin, the influential yet often overshadowed civil rights activist and key organizer of the 1963 March on Washington. Domingo, speaking at Deadline's Contenders Film: Los Angeles event, expressed a deep sense of duty to bring Rustin's story to contemporary audiences.

"Honestly, it was a great calling," Domingo reflected. He highlighted Rustin's marginalization in historical narratives, attributing this to Rustin's open homophile, which posed a challenge to societal norms of the time. Domingo's personal journey with Rustin's legacy began at age 19, sparking a profound introspection about his educational experiences.

"Discovering Rustin made me question my entire education," he shared. This revelation led him to explore other lesser-known figures like Ella Baker and A. Philip Randolph, emphasizing the importance of a broader, more inclusive historical perspective.

Marsalis' Musical Fusion

The film's score, crafted by acclaimed composer Branford Marsalis, transcends traditional boundaries. Marsalis fused diverse elements, from big band to orchestral sounds, even incorporating an Elizabethan song with lyrics by Sting.

Marsalis believes "Rustin" transcends being merely a historical or "Black story," describing it as a universally human narrative. The film, produced by Barack and Michelle Obama, benefitted from the former President and First Lady's direct involvement.

Domingo humorously recounted a memorable Zoom call with the Obamas, where they emphasized the importance of health, solidarity, and the film's underlying message. "Rustin" arrives at a time of global turmoil in 2023, a period Domingo believes can draw inspiration from Rustin's life.

He hopes the film will motivate viewers to maintain hope and realize the power of collective action, reminiscent of the young organizers behind the historic March on Washington. "Rustin is a clarion call," Domingo stated. "Ordinary people can do extraordinary things." This film not only celebrates Bayard Rustin's legacy but also serves as a reminder of the ongoing need for inclusivity and recognition in historical narratives.

It’s a poignant reflection on the power of cinema to educate, inspire, and shape public consciousness, particularly in challenging times.