Sunday, May 19, 2024

A look behind the scenes of new queer film, The Inspection

The Inspection, from A24 Films, has generated a lot of buzz as it worked its way through the film festival circuit which ultimately landed it a wider theatrical release on November 18.

We take a look at the groundbreaking film and got some insight from the film’s writer-director Elegance Bratton, and its star Jeremy Pope.

Hollywood has produced many films about the journey from civilian to soldier, but it’s never been done through the lens of a queer black man which is what makes The Inspection so fresh and unique. Based on real events from Bratton’s life, the film follows Ellis French, a queer youth thrown out of his home by a homophobic mother, whom after several years on the street enlists in the marines as a way to find stability and purpose in his life. Once there, French’s homosexuality is soon found out, leading to a barrage of bullying and persecution at the hands of some of his drill sergeants and fellow recruits. There are of course bright spots and relationships developed during the experience and ultimately, despite all differences, the recruits become a band of brothers, French included.

“When I arrived on the doorstep of the Marine Corps, I thought I was worthless and that I had no purpose in life. I was fortunate enough to have a drill instructor tell me that was a lie, that actually my life was important because I had a responsibility to protect the person to my left and to my right. And that responsibility and the trust it implied really transformed my life” said Bratton. “The Marine Corps taught me how to listen to people who are different from me and still be myself. That’s why I wanted to make this movie, to show people that there’s there there’s power in collaboration.”

The primary focus of the film is French’s transformation from a meek mild-mannered victim to a self-respecting man that stands up for himself. And though the scenes where he is verbally and physically attacked for being gay are triggering and tough to watch, French utilizes the experiences to grow stronger and stubbornly refuses to give in to his would-be oppressors.

When asked about the emotional rawness of shooting these types of scenes Pope mentioned that he harkened back to a time when he himself was gay bashed but was quick to mention how safe and supported he was made to feel on set.

“Sometimes you just gotta cry it out, get it out of, allow yourself to go to that place and know that that’s what this job requires of you. And it does take a chipping of you, but there’s people that will heal you, like Elegance, who was there to protect me, my cast, my crew; I didn’t feel alone in it. We called cut and I could look around the room and people were there to squeeze me, to hold me, to remind me that I’m safe.”

The other central focus of the film was French’s strained relationship with his mother Inez, portrayed by the amazing Gabrielle Union. His enlistment into the marines was in no small way designed to help win the approval of his hard-hearted mother who refused to accept her gay son no matter how much he tried to be in her life. Both Union and Pope shine in their scenes together and tragically yet beautifully convey what it means to love someone so much but to simultaneously not like or accept them.

Said Bratton: “When it comes down to it, my mom was the first person to ever love me completely. She’s also the first person to wholistically reject me. She was a complicated woman, an orphan from the age of 10. By the age of 16, she had me and she really tried to make it. She was trying to grasp onto the American Dream any way she could, and being a single black teenage mom in the 80s, she was labeled a social pariah and treated as such. Gabrielle did a really good job of tracking this woman’s dreams of who she was before she had me.”

Pope added: “They’re hard seeing, but they both want each other so bad. There’s such a longing. You know, and there’s this idea of love that is conditional, but you still see the love. We feel the love. That’s what makes it complicated.”

Hearing the young actor and Bratton interact, you could tell that the film bonded the two as close friends in addition to colleagues, a rapport and chemistry which definitely translated to the screen in Pope’s Virtuoso winning performance from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.

“In the process {of making the film} I was able to get my own healing because I’m working with a director who is a black man. Full stop. But also, a black queer man. And I don’t have a lot of experience with that. In most rooms where I’m in, if I don’t see myself, I have to kind of bring them in and guide them, autocorrect and say ‘I think the character should do this..’ and almost over explain to  feel like I then have the right to make certain decisions, for people to know why I’m making certain decisions. But with Elegance I didn’t have to do that. There was just a commonality and an understanding of how we’ve had to exist in this world.”

Bratton was equally complimentary of Pope, saying that he always had the young Emmy, Grammy and Tony nominee in mind for the part.

What resulted from the chemistry between filmmaker, cast and crew is an undeniably queer film from a different perspective, telling an unfortunately familiar story of homophobia and prejudice. It is not reflective of the current trends of protest, resistance and social justice because that is not typically how things were handled in the early 2000s (when the film takes place) and within the institution of the US military. That might rub viewers the wrong way, but it does not take away the validity and power of this story which is well worth your time and the accolades it is receiving from critics.

Jeremy Pope put it best: “To have a movie that centers on a black queer man finding his truth is so important…So I hope this film resonates with people who might need a little push or something tangible to step into their purpose, to know that they are lovable, to know that they are worth more than money can buy, that their unique view on life is purposeful and meaningful and is unique to them. And I hope they step into that. Own that. That’s ultimately what this film gave me.”

For more on The Inspection check out their official site.

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John Hernandez

John A. Hernandez is a staff writer for Queer Forty with a focus on entertainment. He is also a writer for Vacationer Magazine and a contributor to Bear World Magazine and Gayming Magazine. He has a special love for all things horror and Halloween. He currently resides with his husband in New York City.

John Hernandez has 135 posts and counting. See all posts by John Hernandez

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