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Colman Domingo: Finding Humanity in Every Character

 Colman Domingo in his latest film Sing Sing, which screens this week in Provincetown.
 Photo: Courtesy of A24  

by Rebecca M. Alvin

Colman Domingo is definitely having a moment. When we spoke, Domingo had just wrapped on a new film, and earlier in the week it had just been announced that he would be working with Tina Fey and Steve Carell on a new series based on the 1981 Alan Alda film The Four Seasons.

Fresh from his Oscar nomination for his portrayal of civil rights activist Bayard Rustin in the 2023 Netflix film Rustin, the veteran actor of stage, screen, and television, is coming to Provincetown for his very first time this week to accept the Excellence in Acting Award at the Provincetown International Film Festival (PIFF).

 Domingo as Bayard Rustin in Rustin. 
Photo: Courtesy of Netflix

“This is my very first time coming to Provincetown. It’s very fabled and it’s a place I’ve always wanted to go to, I just could never get there. But now it’s the perfect way to come,” he says.

He’ll be coming to the festival in support of his latest film, Sing Sing, directed by Greg Kwedar, which will screen here this week. In it he plays Divine G, an actor and director who is convicted of a crime he did not commit and becomes involved with a theater program while in prison that changes his whole perspective. This group of men in prison work together to do a play, and through that, they are all changed.

“Through doing this play they learn all these other skills. It’s been about connecting them and making them feel human again, and doing a sort of a reexamination of their spirits and their souls and their purpose while they’re on this planet,” says Domingo.

It’s based on a real-life theater program at Sing Sing prison in New York, and many of the cast members are individuals who went through that real program during their time in prison there, adding a layer of authenticity to the process, which Domingo describes as collaborative in “every single part of the film.” 

The program, called Rehabilitation Through the Arts, has been shown to be effective, with only a small percentage of its participants ever returning to prison. Domingo says something like 95 percent of the cast he worked with had been participants.

“It’s really a story about brotherhood, basically, and about people trying to better themselves while they’re on the inside,” he explains. “I always like to say it’s not a documentary at all. This is basically a piece of art examining the human spirit, especially trying to find humanity in these dark spaces.”

Empathy is obviously the name of the game when you’re an actor, and Domingo taps into a deep well of it within himself with every role. It’s one reason why he’s been nominated for two Tonys and an Oscar, and won an Emmy for his performance in HBO’s Euphoria.

Of the role of Mister in the 2023 version of The Color Purple, Domingo says, “This is a hurt person who hurts people. He didn’t just wake up one morning wanting to abuse someone. He’s been abused, whether it’s by the system or whatever it was—being a Black man in America at that time. And he felt like the only way he could feel human, better, validated in some way, was to abuse others.”

Domingo and co-star Taylour Paige in Zola.
Photo: Courtesy of A24 

Of X, the sinister pimp he played in Zola, he says, “You get clues to a character, and then you start to build a whole world around them. You start to find out how they’re the hero in their story in some way…He’s someone who traffics women. I’m absolutely 100% against that, because I’m such a feminist. But what I had to find was this man is an immigrant…How does he try to gain what everybody else wants, which is the American Dream, and use the skill sets that he knows…He just doesn’t have access.”

And in his latest role as Joe Jackson in the Michael Jackson biopic Michael, which just wrapped shooting, he says, “In public opinion he’s such a dastardly character. He’s a strong, complex father figure, and I took it on in particular because I want to find out what made him tick, what motivated him to create one of the greatest legends ever in music, you know, the family and legacy, it’s all due to Joe Jackson. So what a character to unpack, someone that complex.”

But the hardest role for him to prepare for, he says, was as Bayard Rustin, a personal hero of his whom he learned about while in college. “I stumbled upon him when I was a junior at Temple University, and I could not let him go,” he says, adding, “I guess apparently he couldn’t let me go, in some divine way.”

The role was a powerful and important one that carried with it a lot of responsibility for Domingo. Reflecting on it now, he says, “We’d never seen a character like Bayard Rustin. And I also want to make sure that if this is anyone’s introduction to a queer person, who’s also a civil rights activist, who’s also someone who is truly his own character—when it comes to everything about Bayard, he was his own creation—here’s an opportunity so that there can be more opportunities like this. “He’s not just some trope in some person’s mind of what a queer person is. What they see are our dreams, our ideas, how vast they are, how complex they are. We’re not just window dressing or there to be a decorator or something like that, you know. There’s a real human and a beating heart there.”

The Provincetown International Film Festival occurs in various venues in Provincetown throughout each day from June 12 – 16. Colman Domingo will receive his Excellence in Acting Award at a live conversation with producer Christine Vachon on Thursday, June 13, 11 a.m. at the Crown & Anchor. His film Sing Sing screens Thursday, June 13, 1:30 p.m. and Sunday, June 16, 7:30 p.m. Domingo will attend the Thursday screening. For tickets and more information about all of the events, visit or go to the box office at 229 Commercial St., Provincetown.

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Ginger Mountain (MS Communications Media, BA Fine Arts/Teaching Certification K-12) has been part of the graphic design team at Provincetown Magazine since 2008. Ginger has worked as a creative director, individual contractor, and freelance designer with clients representing many areas —business software, consumer products, professional services, entertainment, and network hardware to name just a few — providing creative layout and development of a wide range of print media content. Her clients ranged from small local businesses to large corporations and Fortune 500 companies, from New Hampshire to Georgia

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