Brother Outsider - The Life of Bayard Rustin Presented at JCU

The JCU departments of Political Science and International Affairs and Communications hosted the screening of the award-winning documentary biography Brother Outsider-The Life of Bayard Rustin, directed by Bennett Singer, on February 12, 2019. 

Bennett Singer

Bennett Singer during the Q&A

Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was an African-American gay civil and human rights activist, a pacifist who believed in ideals of equality and democracy. Passionate about Gandhi’s philosophy of nonviolence, he surrounded himself with influential personalities such as Martin Luther King Jr., and trade unionist A. Philip Randolph. One of his major achievements in the name of equal civil rights was the March on Washington of 1963, one of America’s greatest protests. 

As filmmaker Bennett Singer explained, Brother Outsider-The Life of Bayard Rustin was inspired by a study on the history of civil rights, that Singer himself researched. As soon as he came across the figure of Bayard Rustin, whom he had no previous knowledge of, he immediately engaged in the study of such an influential man, who had a huge impact on the society of his time. Rustin, despite being the leader of the civil rights movement, always had a marginalized role due to his open homosexuality. Singer felt that such a significant figure should not have remained unknown and therefore started collecting evidence for his documentary, which took him 5 years to complete. 

The movie narrates Rustin’s 60-year career as an activist, alternating testimonies from people close to Rustin himself, to exclusive archival footage, to FBI records as a way to retell the story of a forgotten “troublemaker.” Brother Outsider won numerous awards including the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentaries. Former US president Barack Obama watched the documentary and consequently decided to award Bayard Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom, in 2013.