Michelle and Barack Obama joined dozens of talented filmmakers and activists in Washington D.C. to celebrate the opening night screening of Rustin. The Obamas, who served as executive producers of the film, raved about the production and paid tribute to Bayard Rustin at the HBCU First Look Film Festival on Friday.

Rustin, an openly gay activist who served as an LGBTQ advocate, was the architect behind the March on Washington.

Photo: Netflix
Photo: Netflix

“We don’t know much about the folks who did the hard work. Who packed the lunches… sorted the accommodations… figured out where all those folks were going to go to the bathroom… the unsung organizers who willingly and freely devoted
thousands of hours so that people from every background and every part of the country could come together to peacefully rally for justice and equality,” Michelle said at the event. “Bayard Rustin was the driving force behind all of that. His dedication… his optimism… his expert execution — he set the stage for the March and all the progress that flowed from it.”

Rustin, starring Colman Domingo, is directed by George C. Wolfe. The cast also includes Audra McDonald, Glynn Turman, Aml Ameen, CCH Pounder, Julies Latimer, Maxwell-Whittington Cooper and more.

Michelle said the film “is about painting that fuller story of our history — triumphs, complications, all of it.” She also encouraged young people to be confident in their ability to make change.

“I know how easy it is to doubt who you are…to wonder if the way you look or where you’re from or who you love will leave you on the margins of the broader American story,” she explained. “But as you watch this movie, I want you to let Bayard Rustin’s example give you the strength to silence those doubts… let his story remind you that no matter the complication… no matter the hardship… you can make history.”

The former president posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013.

“No medal can change what happened to Bayard, and no film can ease the pain of generations of Americans who have faced discrimination because of who they are and who they love,” he said at the screening. “But Michelle’s and my hope is that, by telling Bayard’s story, more people will appreciate leaders like him who brought America closer to its highest ideals – even though they weren’t in the limelight. Even though they operated behind the scenes…because that’s what it takes sometimes to change…and we can honor the legacy of Rustin and others by taking our place in this long march towards true equality.”

Rustin has screened at the Telluride and Toronto International Film Festivals. The film opened in select theaters on Nov. 3 and it will be released on Netflix on Nov. 17.