Rustin trailer celebrates the remarkable gay civil rights leader behind the March on Washington

Colman Domingo plays gay civil rights leader Bayard Rustin in Netflix biopic.

Emmy award-winning actor Colman Domingo will portray one of the masterminds behind the 1963 civil rights March on Washington in a new Netflix biopic.

More than 250,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Memorial 60 years ago this week to hear Martin Luther King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech and push the movement for racial justice forward in the US.

To mark the anniversary, Netflix dropped the trailer for biopic Rustin, which tells the story of the “forgotten” civil rights leader who helped organise the momentous demonstration: Bayard Rustin.

Despite, according to Netflix, becoming “one of the greatest activists and organisers the world has ever known”, his role has remained buried in history because he was gay.

In 2013, Rustin, who died in 1987, was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama. The former president acts as executive producer on the project, alongside his wife Michelle. The film is directed by three-time Tony-Award-winner George C Wolfe, with the screenplay by Julian Breece and Milk‘s Dustin Lance Black.

The two-minute trailer chronicles both Rustin’s exhilarating race to pull together the game-changing march, and the many layers of discrimination he faced as a gay Black man – not only from wider society but also from those within the civil rights movement.

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At one point, the executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Roy Wilkins (played by Chris Rock in the film), denounces Rustin.

“To hell with Bayard Rustin, his attention-grabbing antics make him an easy target, and let’s not mention the unmentionable,” he says, before the film cuts to a shot of him with another man.

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Later on, New York politician Adam Clayton Powell (Jeffrey Wright) tells Rustin: “Your mere presence would derail the fight for racial justice in this country a good 10, 15 years.”

Rustin snaps back: “On the day I was born Black, I was also born homosexual.”

The official synopsis of the film reads: “He challenged authority, never apologised 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 promises to shine a “long-overdue spotlight on the extraordinary man” and his role alongside other key figures in the movement who “dared to imagine a different world and inspired a movement in a march toward freedom”.

The film also stars Aml Ameen as King, and Glynn Turman as fellow march organiser A. Philip Randolph.

A still from Rustin.
The march on Washington, depicted in Rustin, called for civil and economic rights for African Americans. (Netflix)

Openly gay actor Domingo, best-known for his roles in Euphoria and Fear the Walking Dead, previously spoke to PinkNews about how his sexuality doesn’t define the parts he plays.

“I’m someone who’s always been out. I’ve never led with my sexuality, I lead with being an artist, a Black artist. Being gay is a part of it as well – a wonderful, vital part of it,” he said.

“But I’ve never put any limits on my career and what I can do or what I can play.”

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Domingo, who also appeared in the civil rights-themed Selma in 2014, and biopic Lincoln two years before that, also spoke about his “purposeful” approach to choosing roles that are “moving the needle on humanity”.

“I’m looking for something that scares me, something that is going to change me or devastate me, is going to make me rethink art, is going to help me rethink my place in the world and what my purpose is.”

Rustin lands on Netflix on 17 November.

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