8 Biopic Movies Like Rustin You Cannot Miss

Image Credit: David Lee/Netflix

Rustin,’ a biographical drama directed by George C. Wolfe and written by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black, illuminates the life of civil rights icon Bayard Rustin. Colman Domingo leads the cast, supported by Chris Rock, Jeffrey Wright, and Audra McDonald. The film taps into Rustin’s pivotal role in organizing the 1963 March on Washington, where he collaborated with Martin Luther King Jr. Despite confronting racism and homophobia, Rustin’s activism shapes the course of Civil Rights history. Through powerful performances, the movie captures the challenges and triumphs of a man committed to social change during a tumultuous era. If you want more movies charting similar territories, here are 8 movies similar to ‘Rustin‘ that you must watch.

8. The Great Debaters (2007)

‘The Great Debaters,’ directed by Denzel Washington, portrays the true story of Melvin B. Tolson coaching a debate team from Wiley College, a small African-American institution, challenging Harvard in the 1930s. This powerful narrative captures the essence of intellectual activism and the struggle against racial inequality. Relating it to ‘Rustin,’ both films showcase the challenges faced by African-American leaders striving for change. While ‘The Great Debaters’ focuses on academic empowerment, ‘Rustin’ highlights Bayard Rustin’s courageous efforts in the civil rights movement, showcasing the multifaceted battles against prejudice and discrimination during pivotal moments in history.

7. Cry Freedom (1987)

In Richard Attenborough’s poignant apartheid drama, ‘Cry Freedom,’ the late-1970s South African backdrop serves as the stage for the genuine relationship between activist Steve Biko and his skeptical ally, Donald Woods. Denzel Washington brings Biko’s passion to life, while Kevin Kline embodies Woods, who grapples with comprehending Biko’s radical convictions. The film transcends a mere historical narrative, delving into the intricate interplay of discrimination, political corruption, and the enduring echoes of violence. Drawing parallels to ‘Rustin,’ both films navigate the tumultuous waters of social change, spotlighting individuals like Bayard Rustin and Steve Biko who, in different contexts, faced adversity while fervently advocating for justice and equality.

6. The Butler (2013)

Directed by Lee Daniels, ‘The Butler‘ is a historical drama featuring an ensemble cast, including Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey, Cuba Gooding Jr., and David Oyelowo. The film portrays the life of Cecil Gaines, a White House butler who served through eight presidencies, offering a unique perspective on the Civil Rights Movement. As Gaines witnesses pivotal moments in history, the film captures the broader struggle for racial equality. Correlating with ‘Rustin,’ both films illuminate the unsung heroes behind the scenes of social change. While ‘The Butler’ focuses on the intimate experiences of a butler, ‘Rustin’ delves into the public activism of Bayard Rustin, showcasing diverse facets of the fight against discrimination.

5. One Night in Miami… (2020)

One Night in Miami…‘ shares thematic similarities with ‘Rustin’ by exploring the intersection of activism and African-American history. Both narratives showcase pivotal moments in the struggle for civil rights, offering nuanced portrayals of influential figures. Directed by Regina King, ‘One Night in Miami…’ imagines a fictional meeting between Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke. The film dives into their discussions on race, power, and responsibility, providing a snapshot of the cultural and political landscape in the 1960s. The stellar cast includes Kingsley Ben-Adir, Eli Goree, Aldis Hodge, and Leslie Odom Jr., delivering strong performances that mirror the depth found in ‘Rustin.’

4. Barry (2016)

‘Barry’ is a convincing watch for enthusiasts of ‘Rustin’ as it delves into the formative years of Barack Obama, exploring his identity and activism during his college days. Like ‘Rustin,’ it offers a nuanced look at a key figure in the African-American struggle for civil rights. Directed by Vikram Gandhi, ‘Barry’ navigates Obama’s journey, depicting his challenges and the development of his social consciousness. Devon Terrell delivers a standout performance as the young Obama, portraying the complexities that shaped his future as a transformative political figure. The film provides a thought-provoking narrative that resonates with those intrigued by stories of societal change and leadership.

3. Selma (2014)

For enthusiasts of ‘Rustin,’ ‘Selma’ is a riveting exploration of pivotal moments in civil rights history. Directed by Ava DuVernay, the film chronicles Martin Luther King Jr.’s strategic campaign for equal voting rights in 1965. The narrative unfolds with raw intensity, showcasing David Oyelowo’s powerhouse portrayal of King. ‘Selma’ resonates with the same fervor as ‘Rustin,’ revealing the challenges and triumphs of individuals fighting against systemic injustice. As the film unveils the relentless pursuit of justice, it captures the essence of social change and resonates with the spirit of those moved by Bayard Rustin’s impactful contributions to the civil rights movement.

2. Milk (2008)

Stepping into the realm of ‘Rustin’ admirers, the biographical drama ‘Milk’ embarks on an enthralling exploration of yet another trailblazing figure. Guided by Gus Van Sant’s directorial prowess, the film unearths the life and legacy of Harvey Milk, who etched his name in history as California’s inaugural openly gay elected official. Sean Penn delivers a mesmerizing performance, portraying Milk’s relentless advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights. ‘Milk’ echoes the spirit of Rustin’s activism, offering a visceral narrative that goes beyond stereotypes. It immerses viewers in the turbulent era of the late ’70s, revealing the personal and political battles fought by individuals determined to challenge societal norms. The film becomes a resonant experience, connecting with those inspired by Rustin’s courage in confronting prejudice.

1. Malcolm X (1992)

For aficionados of Rustin’s unwavering commitment to civil rights, ‘Malcolm X‘ is an essential cinematic odyssey that plunges into the riveting narrative of another transformative leader. Directed by Spike Lee, this biographical epic stars Denzel Washington as the iconic Malcolm X, portraying his evolution from a troubled past to becoming a formidable advocate for black empowerment. Much like Rustin’s story, Malcolm X’s journey is a complex exploration of identity, ideology, and the pursuit of justice. The film’s brilliance lies in its unflinching portrayal of a charismatic yet controversial figure, offering a profound meditation on the intersections of race, activism, and self-discovery. With Lee’s directorial prowess and Washington’s stellar performance, ‘Malcolm X’ stands as a cinematic masterpiece, resonating powerfully with those drawn to the multifaceted narratives of civil rights luminaries.

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