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Production Journal

Filmmakers Nancy Kates and Bennett Singer faced some particular challenges in constructing Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin, not least of which was a subject who was no longer alive. Here they talk more about the process — getting to know Rustin through his past and telling his story through sound, image, and interviews with his contemporaries.

POV: What are the challenges and benefits (if any) in making a film about a subject who is deceased?

Bayard Rustin

Kates: It does make me rather sad that I never had the opportunity to meet Bayard Rustin, (though I do occasionally have dialogues with him in my mind). It's an interesting endeavor, trying to capture the spirit and essence of another human being, someone you did not know personally. In spite of years of painstaking research, there are many things about Rustin that remain a mystery to me and are ultimately unknowable. I have a photo of him hanging over my desk — one in which he looks vaguely dissatisfied. I feel responsible to the face in the photograph, and have wondered from time to time, "Would Bayard approve of what we've done?" I like to think the answer to that question is yes, but again, there is no way to tell.

Brother Outsider - Bayard RustinSinger: It would have been such a luxury to be able to interview Bayard Rustin for this film, to have him reflect on his 60 years as an activist and, perhaps most importantly, to hear him respond directly to critics who accuse him of betraying his principles during the Vietnam years and after. Fortunately, Rustin did leave a vast collection of writings and interviews, and we were able to extract his words for inclusion as voice-over within the film. I agree with Nancy that it would have been a real privilege to meet and get to know Bayard. But after spending five years researching, developing, producing and editing this project, I feel that I did come to know him pretty well. The bottom line, as one of our interviewees puts it, is that "Bayard was his own man" — full of surprises at every turn. I hope that his sense of mischief, his willingness to take unpopular stands, and the joy he found in life come through in what we've done.





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