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If you are talking about icons of American civil rights, Bayard Rustin doesn’t quite get into the level of those famous Martin Luther Kings and John Lewises. The new film “Rustin” by George C. Wolfe (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom) seeks to change that a little bit and put him right in history’s headlights. It is definitely going to bring his story back into the main stream, even though sometimes it doesn’t really look like something peculiarly new.

The prologue whizzes through major events giving us a brief mini-history of the American civil rights movement which includes such incidents as: Bayard Rustin (Colman Domingo), who after Brown vs Board of Education 1954 Supreme Court decision that marked the beginning of the end for racial segregation in America, finds himself at odds with NAACP, America’s largest civil rights organization, leading to his resignation expecting his colleague Martin Luther King (Aml Ameen) to reject it but surprises him by accepting it thus forcing Rustin out of the movement he helped create.

Then, we go forward in time to 1963 – almost a lifetime then: Kennedy is now at White House; civil rights as a political force has gained momentum fast and there is making history practically every day. Now Rustin looks like an old-timer; at one party he is told he is “irrelevant.” (“I’ve been called worse on a Friday,” he drily notes.) But while he seems to be fading away inspiration strikes: what if a giant protest march on Washington DC brought all these different civil rights groups together and pressured Congress into passing its first Civil Rights Act?

So starts the vigorous tale of how America’s biggest non-violent demonstration was organized within eight weeks through underfunded grassroots campaigns and due to Rustin’s undying faithfulness mixed with charm. All this they have filmed liveliness and briskly moves along with Branford Marsalis’ score giving proceedings a jazzy breeziness.

There is also some fascinating behind the scenes maneuvering, with NAACP executive secretary Roy Wilkins (Chris Rock, in rare dramatic mode) and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr (Jeffrey Wright, charismatically douchey) both being unmovable impediments to Rustin’s attempts. Except for fearing that no one will come on the day there is little tension as the film reaches its inevitable climax. The problem with an account of a well-known historic event is that most people already know how it turned out; thus everything unfolds as if it was always bound to happen like this anyhow.

To prevent this movie from going too far down the avenue of clichéville, Colman Domingo saves it with his abundant grace, allure and geniality. He has long deserved a leading-man role befitting his abilities and although it may not turn out to be the Oscar-winning performance it seems poised to be, he brings an uncommon humaneness into Rustin especially through intersectional discrimination faced as both Black and gay man. You can feel this when he speaks about “exalted rage” found in African-American Baptist churches.

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