An unsung hero of the civil rights movement gets the customary Oscar bait treatment in this biopic. Though he was instrumental in organizing the historic March on Washington — which helped force the US government to enshrine civil rights — gay Black activist Bayard Rustin isn’t the household name his peers are. In an inversion of that narrative, figures like Martin Luther King appear here as supporting characters to Colman Domingo’s Bayard.
Domingo’s energetic, commanding performance holds the center of the film, but he’s ill-served by the formulaic approach to storytelling that unfolds around him. More than a few scenes feel like they were written, directed, and performed with an eye to making awards ceremony clips, giving the film a disjointed, self-aware air. And yet, for all the limits of its by-the-numbers approach, Rustin does manage to pack in glints of insight. By virtue of who he was, Bayard will never not make for a compelling central figure — so even lackluster filmmaking can’t sap this inherently radical material of all its power. Though not without its flaws, then, the film is valuable for the light it sheds on the polarising effect Bayard's identity as a gay Black man had within the movement and the intersectional depths he nevertheless brought to it.
Genre: Drama, History
Actor: Adrienne Warren, Aml Ameen, Audra McDonald, Bill Irwin, Carra Patterson, CCH Pounder, Chris Rock, Colman Domingo, Cotter Smith, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, Daniel Johnson, Glynn Turman, Gus Halper, Jeffrey Wright, Johnny Ramey, Lilli Kay, Maxwell Whittington-Cooper, Michael Potts
Director: George C. Wolfe