Colman Domingo had been anointed for the role of Bayard Rustin long before director George C. Wolfe embarked on the journey of bringing the civil rights organizer’s story to the screen. “I’ve heard this from several people throughout the years: ‘When there’s a Bayard Rustin film, you have to play him,’” says Domingo.
Playing Rustin is Domingo’s first leading role, after over 30 years of work on both stage and screen, including an Emmy-winning turn in Euphoria, a Tony-nominated performance in The Scottsboro Boys, and a previous collaboration with the Directors Guild Award-winning director on Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.
Rustin marks Higher Ground Productions’ first narrative film and is produced by Bruce Cohen, Tonia Davis, and Wolfe, who also felt the cosmic certitude in casting Domingo as the film’s protagonist. “Domingo has only exceeded expectations with his mind-blowingly brilliant performance bringing Rustin to life,” says Cohen. “A dream of ours was that we would find an openly L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ actor to play Bayard Rustin, an openly L.G.B.T.Q.I.A.+ activist. For a long time, Blackness and queerness were amplified separately. There was no intersectionality. In many ways, I think Rustin is going to do something different.”
Rustin’s longtime partner Walter Naegle, who is the executive director of the Bayard Rustin Fund and a board member emeritus at the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice, accepted the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama on Rustin’s behalf 10 years ago. On Domingo’s performance, Naegle shares, “Colman Domingo’s portrayal encompasses Bayard’s militancy, dignity, eloquence, and humanity. It is really a complete and complex portrayal that will inspire people to get involved in the struggle for civil and human rights.”