Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin

2002
Distributed by California Newsreel, Order Dept., PO Box 2284, South Burlington, VT 05407; 877-811-7495 (toll free)
Produced by Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer
Directed by Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer
VHS, color, 83 min.
Sr. High - Adult
African American Studies, Biography, Gay and Lesbian Studies


Reviewed by Monique Threatt, Indiana University, Herman B Wells Library, Bloomington, IN

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended    ALA
 
Date Entered: 5/5/2004

“I am not ready to die. I want no Negro to die. I want no human being to die or to be brutalized, because I thoroughly believe that this struggle can be won without brutalization.” This opening excerpt delivered by Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) epitomizes and distinguishes Rustin as one of the most charismatic and leading social activist of the 20th century.

Brother Outsider is a feature-length documentary by filmmakers Nancy Kates (Their Own Vietnam) and Bennett Singer (producer, Eyes on the Prize) which highlights over 60 years of Rustin’s social and political activism. Without a doubt, one of the pinnacles of Rustin’s career is his exemplary ability to organize and spearhead the 1963 March on Washington, D.C. with contemporaries A. Philip Randolph, head of the Black Labor Movement, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Unfortunately, Rustin’s political enemies and the FBI will use his homosexuality as an Achilles heel to discredit him, thus denying him full recognition for his accomplishments.

Born into a segregated society in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1912, Rustin is raised by his grandmother Julia “Ma” Rustin, a practicing Quaker. It is through her religious beliefs to adopt non-violence as a means to correct social injustices, that a young and impressionable Rustin will indoctrinate this lesson later in life. In 1932, after being asked to leave Wilberforce University for organizing a food strike, Rustin travels to Harlem, New York, where he becomes a member of the Communist Party. As a party member, Rustin is able to hone his skills as a leader and organizer, and unknowingly, become the victim of continual FBI surveillance.

The 1940s and 1950s prove to be both rewarding and tumultuous times for Rustin. He is able to deliver inspiring speeches in India, England and Africa to protest nuclear weapons and testing. He forms alliances with a young Dr. King Jr. in Montgomery, Alabama, and A. Philip Randolph to provide invaluable advice on how to organize and conduct non-violent campaigns. However, several arrests prove damaging to Rustin’s career that includes: refusing to sit in the back of a bus in Tennessee, a monumental event that takes place a decade before Rosa Parks is immortalized as the mother of the Montgomery Bus Boycott; refusing the WWII draft; and the coup de grâce, being caught in a homosexual encounter in Pasadena, California and charged with sexual perversion. This last arrest will be the most damaging in Rustin’s career only because it will provide the cornerstone in which his political enemies will ubiquitously refer to his homosexuality as a way to dehumanize and denigrate his influence within the Civil Rights movements and other various political campaigns.

During the 1960s as the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam conflict divide the American people, Rustin is able to espouse his views in two articles “From Protest to Politics: The Future of the Civil Rights Movement,” and “Vietnam: Where I Stand.” Through his relentless activism with L.B. Johnson and the Democratic Party, Rustin is able to set the groundwork for legislative and voting rights for Black citizens. Still, it will be a short-lived victory as Rustin comes under attack from Black revolutionary organizations such as the Black Panthers because of his views against Black Nationalism and Affirmative Action. Feeling perhaps hurt and ostracized Rustin returns to New York where up until his death in 1987, he continues to combat social injustice and immerse himself in international affairs working with Soviet Jews, people in Thailand and France, and Cambodian refugees.

The film contains archival film footage and interviews with partners, family, friends, social activists and historians. California Newsreel’s website contains an online facilitator guide, as well as Internet links to biographical information about Bayard Rustin at www.rustin.org; and www.pbs.org. I highly recommend this film for high schools, academic, and adult public library collections.

Awards

  • First Prize, Documentary Competition - 2003 Rhode Island International Film Festival
  • Winner - 2004 American Library Association Notable Videos for Adults Award
  • Winner - 2003 CINE Golden Eagle
  • Winner, Best Documentary Feature Award - 2003 Cinequest San Jose Film Festival
  • Winner, Best Documentary Award - 2003 Turin International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival
  • Jury Award for Best Documentary - 2003 Chicago Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
  • Jury Award - 2003 Athens International Film and Video Festival
  • Audience Award - 2003 Pittsburgh International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
  • Audience Award - 2003 Indianapolis LGBT Film Festival
  • Audience Award for Best Feature-Length Film - 2003 New York Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
  • Audience Award for Best Documentary - 2003 San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
  • Audience Award for Best Documentary - 2003 Outfest/Los Angeles Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
  • Audience Award for Best Documentary - 2003 Philadelphia Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
  • Offical Selection - 2003 Sundance Film Festival
  • Official Selection - 2003 Amnesty International Human Rights Film Festival
  • Official Selection - 2003 National Black Arts Festival