Rustin Tells The True Story Of A Civil Rights Hero


The new biographical film Rustin tells the true story of Bayard Rustin produced by Barack and Michelle Obama as part of their historic agreement with Netflix, an activist and organizer whose name may not be as well-known as that of Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights movement heroes.

The film centers on a comparatively brief period of Rustin’s life—the months he spent planning the 1963 “unprecedented mass gathering” in the nation’s capital, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom—despite the fact that he worked for decades to advance the causes of gay rights and racial equality.

The film features a number of other significant figures from the movement, such as Michael Potts as Cleveland Robinson, Chris Rock as Roy Wilkins, Audra McDonald as Ella Baker, Aml Ameen as Martin Luther King Jr., and CCH Pounder as Anna Arnold Hedgeman.

Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., played by Jeffrey Wright, adds a great deal of tension and conflict to the movie. This is not because he is against the planned march; rather, he feels that Rustin’s sexual orientation jeopardizes the cause’s public legitimacy. This echoes the real-life conflict Rustin faced during his activism in the mid-20th century, when he would encounter doors closing due to his relative openness about his sexuality.

Roy Wilkins objected to Rustin leading the 200,000+ protestors prior to the actual Great March on Washington, which happened on August 28, 1963. As a result, he was officially designated as deputy organizer. Leading the march was A. Philip Randolph, with whom he had spent months organizing the occasion.

In the years following the March on Washington, Black LGBTQ+ activists and historians have made it their mission to make sure that history of the civil rights movement does not forget the important role that Tilden played, and that his contributions are honored in order to encourage more of those he referred to as “angelic troublemakers.”