Arts·Here & Queer

The Oscars haven't been kind to gay actors — Bruce Cohen hopes Rustin will change that

The film's producer sits down to talk about Colman Domingo's historic bid for a best actor nomination

The film's producer sits down to talk about Colman Domingo's historic bid for a best actor nomination

Bruce Cohen on the set of Here & Queer.
Academy Award-winning producer Bruce Cohen on the set of Here & Queer. (CBC Arts)

Here & Queer is an interview series hosted by Peter Knegt that celebrates and amplifies the work of LGBTQ artists through unfiltered conversations.

The Oscars are once again just around the corner, and there are few people as familiar with the awards as Bruce Cohen. Not only has he won a little golden man (for producing best picture winner American Beauty), but he also produced the show itself in 2011. He's in the mix yet again, this time as part of the team behind Rustin, which has already earned its star Colman Domingo nominations from the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards for playing pioneering gay civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.

Cohen stopped by the set of Here & Queer back in September, when Rustin was having its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. 

If Domingo is nominated for an Oscar, it will make him just the second out actor ever to be nominated in the best actor category. Ian McKellen is currently the only one, having been nominated 25 years ago for Gods and Monsters

"One of the working words in that statistic is 'out,'" Cohen says when this is mentioned during the interview. "That's been a whole issue and dilemma through the decades: the problems and the complications for actors and whether they can be out and truly express themselves or not. But that still is not an excuse for why we have not had more of these out actors being nominated."

Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin in the film Rustin.
Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin in the film Rustin. (Netflix)

"The hope and dream," Cohen says, had always been for someone openly gay to play Rustin.

"Bayard Rustin would roll over in his grave if he was not being portrayed by an openly gay actor, since he was openly gay in 1963, which is insane. And when all you people out there see the movie, you'll understand how rare and extraordinary that was."

Rare and extraordinary… and incredibly dangerous. 

"The word 'openly' didn't even exist then," Cohen says. "But he was living his life out and proud, and people were just looking at him like he was nuts, because no one else was doing it. So when we found Colman and he was not only the best possible actor for the part and an absolutely brilliant artist who had not really gotten the chance to show his leading man gifts to the world, but was also openly gay, we just knew that we'd hit the jackpot and that Colman would be Bayard for us."

You can watch Colman Domingo in Rustin worldwide on Netflix. 


Peter Knegt (he/him) is a writer, producer and host for CBC Arts. He writes the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada) and hosts and produces the talk series Here & Queer. He's also spearheaded the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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