George C. Wolfe to Direct Bayard Rustin Movie for Obama’s Higher Ground, Netflix

Dustin Lance Black penned the screenplay about the gay civil rights activist.

George C. Wolfe, Dustin Lance Black, and former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground banner are coming together for a biopic of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.

Wolfe will direct Rustin from a script by Dustin Lance Black for Higher Ground and Netflix.

According to the logline, Rustin will “tell the story of the charismatic gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who overcame an onslaught of obstacles, and altered the course of American history by organizing the 1963 march on Washington.”

Along with Bruce Cohen (American Beauty) and Black, Priya Swaminathan and Tonia Davis will produce for Higher Ground Productions, which has a slate that includes Riz Ahmed’s Exit West and The Young Wife from writer-director Tayarisha Poe.

A five-time Tony Award winner, Wolfe most recently directed Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom for Netflix. He is repped by CAA and Loeb & Loeb.


Who Designed the March on Washington?

If you had been a bus captain en route to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August 1963, you would have known who its organizing genius was, and you wouldn’t have been surprised to see his picture on the cover of Life magazine a week later. Yet of all the leaders of the civil rights movement, Bayard Rustin lived and worked in the deepest shadows, not because he was a closeted gay man, but because he wasn’t trying to hide who he was.

That, combined with his former ties to the Community Party, was considered to be a liability. Still, whatever his detractors said, there would always be that perfect day of the march, that beautiful, concentrated expression of Rustin’s decades of commitment to vociferous, but always nonviolent, protest.

It was, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, the “greatest demonstration for freedom” in American history. And it is why, on this 50th anniversary, I ask that if you teach your children one new name from the heroes of black history, please let it be Bayard Rustin.

In front of 170 W 130 St., March on Washington, Bayard Rustin, Deputy Director, and Cleveland Robinson, Chairman of Administrative Committee (left to right). World Telegram & Sun photo by O. Fernandez. (Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division)

No Lonelier Man

There was no lonelier man in Washington, D.C., at 5:30 a.m. August 28, 1963, than Rustin. He had predicted a crowd of 100,000 marchers, and with only four and a half hours to go before the meet-up, he had his doubts. Would everything he had been working toward pan out? Would the coalition hang together? Would the march remain peaceful, thus defying the 4,000 troops President John F. Kennedy had ready in the suburbs, as Taylor Branch reminds us in Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-63?

Twenty-two years earlier, A. Phillip Randolph and Rustin had come very close to delivering on their plans for a first march as a way to pressure President Franklin Roosevelt into opening defense-industry hiring to blacks. Roosevelt was so alarmed by the specter of violence and the negative publicity during the “war against fascism” that a deal was reached before the march could even begin. Now, with the 1963 march about to begin, Rustin was forced to wonder, could they really pull this off? And would its impact help to achieve the goals of the movement? In a matter of hours, he would have his answers.

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