Elias Taylor In ‘Rustin,’ Explained: Was Elias Based On A Real Person?


Elias Taylor was probably the only major character in the Netflix film Rustin who was not inspired by any real-life personality but was solely created for the screen. George C. Wolfe might have created it because, probably through it, he would have wanted to accentuate the kind of personal life Bayard Rustin had. We have to say here that we were not able to really understand Bayard Rustin’s sensibilities when it came to his personal life, as the narrative never delves deep into it. Through this article, we have tried to decipher what kind of man Rustin was and find his motivations behind the actions we witnessed in the film.

Spoiler Alert

How did Elias and Bayard get close?

Bayard met the union leaders and pitched the idea of orchestrating the biggest march in human history. Roy Wilkins and other leaders opposed it, and the former made it very clear that he wouldn’t be a part of this madness. Roy Wilkins, the leader of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), firstly didn’t like Bayard as a person, and secondly, he didn’t think that it was possible to do something like that. Roy knew about Bayard’s communist affiliations, and he despised him for that. There were also rumors about Bayard Rustin having an affair with Martin Luther King Jr., which was false, but it did somehow play a role in making people think that the former was not a worthy man. It was 1963, and being gay was equivalent to indulging in an act of moral turpitude. At that point in time, Rustin was not on speaking terms with Martin Luther King Jr., and now that the NAACP had also withdrawn their support, he didn’t know which door to knock on and how to achieve his goals.

An infuriated Rustin went to the restroom, where a man who had been there at the meeting came and started having a conversation with him. This man was Elias Taylor, and the way he conducted himself made it very evident that he was in awe of Bayard Rustin. Elias flirted with Rustin quite evidently and made his intentions very clear. He didn’t hide the fact that he had a wife and even told him that she was not in town on Saturdays. Bayard hadn’t expected the conversation to go in that direction, and for a moment, he stood quietly, trying to decipher what happened. Elias gave Bayard the advice to reconcile with Martin Luther King Jr., as the former said that he would need his support if he wanted to realize his dreams and make the Black people march for their rights. That was the beginning of their relationship, and very soon, Elias Taylor and Rustin started spending a lot of time together. Rustin had this patented spot on 8th Avenue where he used to take all his potential hookups, and he did the same with Elias, too. Elias unabashedly got intimate with Rustin, and the fact that he had a wife never seemed to stop him.

What did Tom not like about Rustin?

Tom Kahn was Rustin’s assistant, and they both were in a relationship; or at least, that’s what Tom believed. We came to know a great deal about the kind of person Bayard Rustin was when Tom had an argument with him after he found him and Elias Taylor getting intimate in his house. Tom didn’t understand what he was doing wrong to deserve such behavior from Rustin. He didn’t appreciate it one bit, and he had an argument with Elias, who left the scene immediately. Tom told Bayard upfront that he had a problem and that he was sick and tired of dealing with him. Tom didn’t know how to behave or what to expect because, at times, he felt like Bayard was committed to him, but a lot of other times, he also belittled his presence by going out with other people. Bayard Rustin was a great man, and he was fighting for a great cause and undeniably, he was giving it his all. But it cannot be denied that he was giving Tom Kahn the impression that they would be together, but then he was also going behind his back and cheating on him. The way Bayard was surprised when Tom Kahn found him and Elias was a testament to the fact that he very well knew that what he was doing was not right. Though, as said earlier, the character of Elias Taylor is not based on a real person, it could have been possible that a rift was created between Bayard and Tom due to the former indulging in casual relationships.

Why did Rustin and Elias part ways?

Even after Tom Kahn caught Rustin and Elias red-handed, they did not stop meeting. One day, Claudia Taylor, Elias’ wife, gave a call to Rustin and literally told him to stop seeing her husband. She told him that her father was officially handing over the congregation to Elias, and she didn’t want him to indulge in unscrupulous activities. We don’t know what conversation took place between Claudia and Elias, but it had an impact on him, and he was ready to curb his own desires and walk on the path of God. Bayard met Elias once again after he had a conversation with the latter’s wife and tried to change his mind. Bayard told Elias that nothing would be achieved by killing a part of himself and that he should give in to his impulses. It was Elias Taylor who took a step back, and that’s how their affair came to an end.

Bayard Rustin was openly gay, and he didn’t have qualms about it like Elias and Tom did, but it was an undeniable fact that he was a complicated man when it came to his personal life, and he had this knack of shying away from his problems and opting for a convenient route. Bayard Rustin came into a relationship with Walter Naegle, and he stayed with him till he died in 1987.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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