A Bayard Rustin biopic is in the works at Netflix, with Academy Award winner Dustin Lance Black teaming up with director George C. Wolfe and the Obamas’ Higher Groud Productions.
Netflix announced the new production on Thursday (11 February 2021) with the logline: “Rustin tells the story of charismatic, gay, civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who overcame an onslaught of obstacles and altered the course of American history by organising the 1963 march on Washington.”
Dustin Lance Black, who wrote Milk and two episodes of When We Rise, will write the screenplay.
George C. Wolfe will direct the film. He recently helmed another Netflix film, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, starring Viola Davis and Chadwick Boseman, which was released to critical acclaim and awards buzz in November 2020.
Wolfe has also won five Tony Awards for directing plays, including Angels in America and Lackawanna Blues.
The film is being produced by Higher Ground Productions, founded by Barack and Michelle Obama to tell stories embodying their values. The company’s first release was the documentary American Factory, which won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2019.
Little else has been announced about the film except for the high profile team creating it. Netflix have not yet publicised the cast or the release date.
Bayard Rustin was one of the pioneers of the US civil rights movement.
Born and raised in Pennsylvania, Bayard Rustin was a civil rights organiser and advisor to Martin Luther King Jr. He helped to organise conferences to bolster King’s leadership and promoted his philosophy of non-violent resistance.
He helped to initiate the 1947 Freedom Ride to challenge racial segregation on interstate buses. He was also the leading organiser of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Rustin was also arrested in 1953 for homosexual acts. He served 50 days in Los Angeles County jail and was registered as a sex offender for the so-called crime.
He was finally posthumously pardoned by California’s governer in 2020.
Assemblywoman Shirley Weber said of the pardon: “Rustin was a great American who was both gay and black at a time when the sheer fact of being either or both could land you in jail. This pardon assures his place in history.”
Rustin was also posthumously honoured with a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2013 for the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where King made his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.