On the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington, Netflix released the trailer for “Rustin,” which explains how civil rights leader Bayard Rustin defied the odds to plan the historic event.
“On Aug. 28, Black, white, young, old, rich, working-class, poor will descend on Washington D.C.,” Rustin, portrayed by Emmy winner Colman Domingo, says early in the clip, which chronicles the lead-up to the monumental march.
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As Rustin prophesied, on Aug. 28, 1963, more than 250,000 people gathered near the Lincoln Memorial and millions more watched on live television while Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. The march is remembered as one of the greatest peaceful protests in history, but Rustin’s story has gone largely untold.
Directed by three-time Tony Award-winner George C. Wolfe from a screenplay by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black, with a story by Breece, the Netflix film salutes Rustin as “one of the greatest activists and organizers the world has ever known.”
The official synopsis explains: “He challenged authority, never apologized for who he was, what he believed or who he desired. And he did not back down. He made history, and in turn, he was forgotten. ‘Rustin’ shines a long overdue spotlight on the extraordinary man who, alongside giants like the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Ella Baker, dared to imagine a different world, and inspired a movement in a march toward freedom.”
The jazzy trailer underlines the challenge that lay before Rustin — organizing the massive demonstration in just eight weeks — while also highlighting his reality as a Black gay man in 1963 America, where he faced a unique brand of discrimination, including from within the ranks of his fellow activists.
“To hell with Bayard Rustin. His attention-grabbing antics make him an easy target, and let’s not mention the unmentionable,” NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins (Chris Rock) jabs early in the clip, alluding to Rustin’s sexuality. Later, Rep. Adam Clayton Powell (Jeffrey Wright) tells Rustin, “Your mere presence would derail the fight for racial justice in this country for a good 10-15 years.”
Rustin fires back: “On the day I was born Black, I was also born a homosexual.”
The footage also gives a first look at the film’s all-star cast — including Rock, Glynn Turman, Aml Ameen, Gus Halper, CCH Pounder, Da’Vine Joy Randolph, Johnny Ramey, Michael Potts, Wright and Audra McDonald — as they portray the legendary civil rights leaders who participated in this watershed moment in the fight for racial equality.
The clip ends with footage of Rustin’s vision come to life. “We are committed to the cause of altering the trajectory of this country toward freedom. They either believe in freedom and justice for all,” he says as the camera pans over the quarter million people gathered on the Washington Mall. “Or they do not.”
“Rustin” is executive produced by former president Barack Obama (who posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013) and Michelle Obama under their Higher Ground banner, with Academy Award winner Bruce Cohen, Higher Ground’s Tonia Davis and Wolfe as producers. Mark R. Wright, Alex G. Scott, David Permut, Daniel Sladek and Chris Taaffe also serve as executive producers. Last week, Variety exclusively revealed that Lenny Kravitz wrote and recorded a new song, titled ‘Road to Freedom,’ for the film.
The film will debut as an official selection at the Toronto International Film Festival, before opening in select theaters on Nov. 3. “Rustin” begins streaming on Netflix on Nov. 17.
Watch the trailer below:
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