This Sundance Grand Jury Prize nominee chronicles the life of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin, who, among many contributions to the cause, is best known for organizing the 1963 March on Washington, D.C., involving hundreds of thousands of people. But Rustin’s skin color wasn’t the only thing that reinforced the feeling that he was an outsider in America. He was also openly gay at a time when most gay men — particularly black men — remained in the closet.
BROTHER OUTSIDER takes a multifaceted approach to the material, reflecting the complexity of Rustin’s story. This feature-length portrait unfolds both chronologically and thematically, using interviews and traditional documentary techniques, as well as experimental approaches. The work of Marlon Riggs and the pastiche quality of his groundbreaking documentaries have inspired the production team. The historical aspects of the piece are based on meticulous primary research in the Rustin papers and other archives, and will incorporate elements such as archival footage, stills, posters and broadsheets, government propaganda films, paintings, and other cultural artifacts.
Though Bayard Rustin did not keep a journal, the film uses his first-person voice wherever possible, gleaned from his extensive writings (compiled in the volume Down the Line, published in 1971, and other unpublished collections), papers and personal correspondence, and numerous recorded interviews. The extensive oral interviews conducted by the Columbia University Oral History Research Project constitute a primary recorded source of Rustin’s reflections and perspectives.
Beyond this, Rustin’s and other first-person voices contrast with excerpts from Rustin’s FBI files, which present J. Edgar Hoover’s view of Rustin as a “suspected communist and known homosexual subversive.” BROTHER OUTSIDER creates an aesthetic that reflects Rustin’s position as an outsider, a troublemaker and an eloquent speaker who refused to be silenced.
NANCY D. KATES (Producer/Director) is a filmmaker and writer based in Berkeley, California. She is a graduate of Stanford University’s documentary film and television program, where she created a number of short films; her M.A. thesis film, Their Own Vietnam, received the 1995 Student Academy Award in Documentary. She is a former producer of Computer Chronicles, the PBS series, and has worked as a producer, writer, and story consultant on various documentary projects. Kates is a former staff writer at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, and also works as a writer, consultant and futurist.
BENNETT SINGER (Producer/Director), a New York-based filmmaker and book editor, has served as producer/director or associate producer of a number of acclaimed documentary series, including the Emmy-, Peabody-, and duPont-Columbia-winning Eyes On The Prize II, With God On Our Side, and The Question of Equality. He served for eight years as executive editor of TIME Magazine’s education program. Singer is the editor of 42 Up, the companion book to Michael Apted’s famed documentary series; editor of the award-winning Growing Up Gay/Growing Up Lesbian; and co-author of The Student Body, a novel of suspense published by Random House. He is currently directing a feature-length documentary on America’s dysfunctional voting system.