How ‘The Inspection’ Tells the Story of a Gay Marine on ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’

Gabrielle Union and Jeremy Pope

Gabrielle Union and Jeremy Pope The inspection. (Photo: A24 Films)

There are over 18 million military veterans in the United States, and each of them has their own unique story of what inspired them to enlist.

Bratton’s elegance must be one of the most incredible.

The Jersey City, NJ native was evicted from his home at age 16 for being gay and was homeless for 10 years. Then, in a desperate attempt to finally gain the approval of his mother, a correctional officer, he joined the Marines.

“My mom used to make me feel like I was worthless because I was gay, and then I became homeless,” Bratton told Yahoo Entertainment during an interview for his powerful new movie The inspectionwhich the veteran filmmaker wrote and directed about his real-life journey into service during the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era.

“So I felt like the world was proving to me that she was right. And then I joined the Marine Corps and discovered that my worth was determined by my ability to protect the Marine on my left. And that really gave me a lot of strength. It was the first time I ever felt like I not only had a purpose, but I also had a place where I belonged… So while it was hard to relive some of these things, I was encouraged by that purpose, to show the public that your best interests are determined by your ability to protect those around you.”

In The inspectionEllis French, Bratton’s alter ego, is confidently played by Tony and Emmy nominated actor Jeremy Pope, best known for the television series Attitude and Hollywood. Pope fondly remembers his introductory Zoom conversation with Bratton, where they talked about what it meant to be an artist, and what it meant to be black and queer.

“And when I read that script, I wanted to hold Elegance,” says Pope. “I had so many questions, because I also knew that there is a cost to giving away your truth in this way. Once you’ve given something, you can’t get it back… That’s a very vulnerable and honest thing to do. But in connecting with him, I knew I wanted to be the one to make space for him to do that so he could heal. And eventually I discovered that I could heal myself. I feel so much stronger saying yes to this movie and sharing this moment with Elegance.”

Director Elegance Bratton, from left, Gabrielle Union and Jeremy Pope arrive for the premiere of The Inspection at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.  (Photo: GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images)

Director Elegance Bratton, from left, Gabrielle Union and Jeremy Pope arrive for the premiere of The inspection at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. (Photo: GEOFF ROBINS/AFP via Getty Images)

The film is also deeply personal to Gabrielle Union, who gives a poignant performance as Ellis’ sternly disapproving mother, Inez. Union and her husband, former NBA star Dwayne Wade, have become outspoken activists and supporters of the LGBTQ community since their teenage daughter Zaya came out as transgender in 2020.

“Initially it was like, ‘I live differently. What did I ever come up with to make someone think I could do this convincingly?’” Union laughed. “And Elegance just insisted that he had the confidence in me that he knew I was [was] the only one who could do this. And I just started to believe him. And then I started doing the work and instead of judging my characters, which I normally do… I had to find common ground with Inez. And that common ground is all the things we’re willing to do to be seen, to get that much further ahead – for a check, for a relationship, for acceptance, validation for white supremacy. What are we willing to gamble with?”

Bratton, Pope and Union like a movie The inspection has the power to change hearts and minds when it comes to parents struggling to accept their LGBTQ children, comfort young gays and beyond.

“This movie is for anyone who has ever felt oppressed, who has ever felt overlooked, to see themselves in Ellis and say, ‘You know what? I have it in me to do better. Anyone telling me I’m worthless is a lie,” said Bratton. “Every good thought you think about yourself, that’s the truth.”

“For me, seeing is believing,” says Pope. “And I hope that this gift we gave in making this film is something tangible for people who have ever felt abandoned. And to know that there is healing and love on the other side, and that you are more than enough. So I truly believe in my heart and in this truth that it will resonate with the people it is supposed to resonate with and ultimately change their outlook.

Adds Union: “I think hurt people hurt people, and healed people have the ability to help other people heal. And I think some people walk in there as hurt people and will recognize themselves. They will recognize how ugly and shady that behavior is and how they have missed wonderful people and a deeper, different kind of all-encompassing love. The love they think they can control by forcing their children and their family members to be what they want them to be. Hopefully, over the course of the movie, they’ll realize how ugly and unnecessary that behavior is, and begin to let go of that pain and start moving toward healing. It is possible. I’ve seen it. You just have to want to act differently and love differently and you have to know that you really don’t lose anything by loving completely.”

The inspection now playing.

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