The Inspection director Elegance Bratton had a long journey to bring his latest opus to the big screen: Kicked out of the house at a young age, the New Jersey native was once homeless, until he decided to join the Marines. The Inspection is a narrative depiction of his boot camp experience as a gay soldier navigating his way through the hyper masculine maze of the military.
The A24 film can be described as Full Metal Jacket meets Moonlight, with a hedonistic haze of lustful longing. It is a collaboration with producer Effie T. Brown, who has relaunched her Game Changer films imprint to support a more inclusive scope of storytellers.
Bratton recruited an impressive cast to bring his true story to life. Broadway nominated multihyphenate Jeremy Pope stars as Ellis French, opposite Gabrielle Union, who portrays Inez French, his disapproving, homophobic mom. Bokeem Woodbine commands every scene as a steely drill sergeant, and Raul Castillo earned a Gotham Award nomination for his role as Ellis’ object of desire, Laurence Harvey. Only Murders in the Building fan favorite Aaron Dominguez rounds out the ensemble as French’s brother in arms during his early days of training.
Tony award winning actor Jeremy Pope understood that being the avatar for Bratton was an emotional undertaking. Pope remembers “beautiful conversations” with Bratton about how to embody his lived experience onscreen.
“There are also some things that I want to bring to help craft for my own kind of experience, identifying as Black and gay,” Pope says. “He wholeheartedly was saying yes and amen to that. He encouraged me to find and to play and to craft. I am so grateful to him for allowing me to craft my interpretation of French. It was his first time learning how to be a director, producer and a writer. He did it with gold stars and he protected me and made sure I had enough to deliver a performance that I could be proud of.”
Bratton persevered through both homelessness and the military, and eventually earned degrees from Columbia and NYU. He also mined his life for material when making his documentary, Pier Kids, about homeless queer teens who were living on the streets to survive. We spoke with him how his relationship with his mother forged the film, Gabrielle Union’s portrayal of her, and how the military gave his life meaning at a very trying time.
Shani Harris: Can you talk about the process of making the film and the inspiration? You were unhoused and then you joined the military and that formed your struggle and the journey that you embark on in the film.
Elegance Bratton: Yes, I joined the Marine Corps after ten years being homeless. My mother kicked me out when I was sixteen for being gay. When I arrived to the doorstep of boot camp, I really thought I was worthless and my life had no meaning, value or purpose. I was fortunate enough to have a drill instructor tell me that was a lie, and in fact my life had value, had meaning and had purpose. Because I had the responsibility to protect Marines to the left and to my right. That responsibility was transformational. I had never been given that kind of trust before with someone else’s life. It meant a lot to me to think that someone thought I could hold that responsibility. This is why I made the film. I really was hoping to get a message out there that we owe it to each other to protect each other, because we are all interconnected.
I cannot survive without you and you cannot survive without me, so thus we have a responsibility to find a middle ground even when we disagree. This is why the movie exists. To also talk about the lighthearted element of the connection as well. We’re in a situation when things are tough. Sometimes the things that make you cry can turn into the thing that makes you laugh. I think that is healing, so that is why the movie was made.
Shani Harris: Can you talk about the casting process and whether you were able to reconcile with your mom before she passed away?
Elegance Bratton: I have to give a shoutout to Kim Coleman. She is our casting director. Without Kim there is nothing, and we love Kim. In terms of reconciliation, my mother passed about three days after we got greenlit for February 2020. She never got a chance to see the movie. We were not speaking when she passed. I am super grateful to Gabrielle Union because she was able to help bring my mother back to life. She made a lot of space in her process of preparing Inez for my grieving process and my rage. I felt as though she brought so much to this role.
But as a human being she brought a lot to me in allowing me to have a sense of closure that I would not have had if she didn’t portray Inez. Every piece of jewelry that Gabby wears in the film is my mother’s. Her Bible is my mother’s Bible and her styling is based off my mother’s looks from when she was raising me. I am really grateful to Gabrielle Union. She is out here doing that work with her daughter, Zaya, and I think she felt at first that this wasn’t the part for her. But she found that common ground, and the things that people are willing to do, especially Black folks are willing to do to survive in this system. How respectability can force you to put your own family on the auction block. She was able to look through the lens of her career in Hollywood and her evolution as an artist. For her bringing that evolution into Inez, I will be eternally grateful.
Shani Harris: You put a dedication to your mom in the Inspection credits. How do you think she would have felt if she was able to see the work that you put on screen, inspired by your relationship with her as well as your experience in the military?
Elegance Bratton: I think she would have been really proud. The thing is when we are all living, we are juggling spinning plates. When you die, those plates come crashing to the ground, and if you are lucky, you will have someone who loves you enough to put the pieces back together and to understand you. When I had the opportunity to clean up my mother’s house after her life was taken, a house I hadn’t spent time in, I realized she had a lot of unused paper clippings. The searches on her computer had my name in it. She kept everything from my childhood and every report card, so many receipts with baby shoes. I think there was some pride there, even if her mental struggles were limiting her ability to express that.
That is also why I made this movie as well. I am making a movie that challenges the idea that men forgiving is a form of weakness. I think forgiveness is a source of strength. Through this process of making the film, I was able to explore the forgiveness that I have. My mother is the first person to ever love me completely, and reject me wholly. She was a complicated woman. This movie is a testament to the complicated nature of the human condition.
The Inspection is now in theaters.
Main image: Jeremy Pope in The Inspection, directed by Elegance Bratton.