Rustin Biopic: Obamas Higher Ground’s First Narrative (Gay Rights Leader)

Colman Domingo to Star in Bayard Rustin Biopic, the First Narrative from Obamas’ Higher Ground

Chris Rock, Glynn Turman and Audra McDonald appear in the Netflix drama about the influential civil and gay rights activist.


Colman Domingo will star in Rustin, a biopic about influential civil and gay rights activist Bayard Rustin that Michelle and Barak Obama’s banner Higher Ground is producing.

Chris Rock, Glynn Turman and Audra McDonald are also starring in the Netflix drama, which is being directed by George C. Wolfe, whose last film was Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. Wolfe wrote the script with Dustin Lance Black, the Oscar-winning scribe behind Harvey Milk biopic Milk.

Rustin was a key figure in the early civil rights movement in the mid-20th century, leading several marches on Washington as well as organizing Freedom Rides. A practitioner of nonviolent resistance, he was arrested and beaten several times for flouting Jim Crow-era laws.

He was also arrested for his sexual orientation, which he tried to keep secret since many believed it would undermine the civil rights work Rustin was trying to accomplish (and was indeed used by racist politicians).

Rustin also helped to organize 1963’s March on Washington, the famous rally where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Barack Obama awarded Rustin a Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously in 2013.

Playing opposite Domingo’s Rustin will be Rock, portraying onetime NAACP leader Roy Wilkins; Turman, portraying activist and March on Washington co-organizer A. Philip Randolph; and McDonald, who will portray Ella Baker, the most influential woman in the civil rights movement.

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Bruce Cohen, who won an Oscar for producing American Beauty and earned nominations for Milk and Silver Linings Playbook, is producing with Higher Ground’s Tonia Davis.

Executive producing are Higher Ground’s Mark R. Wright and Alex G. Scott.

The project is the first narrative to go into production from Higher Ground, which had previously “presented” certain films, including the Kevin Hart drama Fatherhood and the Michael Keaton drama Worth.

The company has already scored success with its first release, American Factory, which won the 2019 Academy Award for best documentary feature.

Rustin is a major break for Domingo. In recent years, he appeared in If Beale Street Could Talk and in Wolfe’s Ma Rainey opposite Chadwick Boseman, earning Indie Spirit and SAG Award nominations. Most recently, he appeared in this summer’s Candyman. Now, at the age of 52, he gets to headline a prestige drama with major players involved.

Rock last starred in Saw reboot Spiral and next appears in David O. Russell’s latest feature project, currently untitled. Turman worked with Domingo and Wolfe in Ma Rainey.

McDonald is a six-time Tony Award winner who appeared in this summer’s Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect. She has her own connection to Barack Obama, as the former president awarded her with the National Medal of Arts in 2016.