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.
Elegance Bratton’s has to be one of the most incredible.
The Jersey City, NJ native was kicked out of his home at 16 for being gay and was homeless for 10 years. Then, in a desperate attempt to finally win the approval of his prison-officer mother, he joined the Marines.
“My mother always made me feel like I had no value because I was gay, and then I became homeless,” Bratton told Yahoo Entertainment during an interview about his powerful new film. The Inspectionwhich the veteran filmmaker wrote and directed about his true-life journey serving during the military’s controversial “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era.
“So I felt like the world proved me 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 was really, really empowering for me. It was the first time I felt that, not only did I have a purpose, but I had a place to belong… So even though it’s been hard to relive some of these things, I’ve been encouraged by that purpose, to show the public that the importance you are defined by your ability to protect those around you.”
In The InspectionBratton’s alter-ego, Ellis French, is confidently played by Tony and Emmy-nominated actor Jeremy Pope, best known for the TV series Stand and Hollywood. Pope fondly remembers his introductory Zoom call with Bratton, in which they talked about what it means to be an artist and what it means to be black and queer.
“And when I read that script, I wanted to keep Elegance,” says Pope. “I had so many questions because I also knew there was a cost to revealing your truth like this. Once you give something, you can’t take it back… That’s a very vulnerable, honest thing to do. But when I connected with him, I knew I wanted to be the one to make room for him to do that, to heal. And finally, what I found is that I was able to heal myself. I feel much stronger saying yes to this film and sharing this moment with Elegance.”
The film is also deeply personal for Gabrielle Union, who delivers a haunting performance as Ellis’ harshly disapproving mother, Inez. Union and her husband, former NBA star Dwyane Wade, have become outspoken activists and supporters of the LGBTQ community since their teenage daughter Zaya came out as transgender in 2020.
“At first it was like ‘I live differently. What have I ever given to make anyone think I could do it convincingly?’ laughed Union. “And Elegance just insisted that he had the confidence in me that he knew that I [was] the only one who could do that. And I just started to believe him. And then I started doing the work, and instead of judging my characters, which I usually 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 go that much further — to check in, to relate, to accept, to validate white supremacy. What are we willing to play with?’
Bratton, Pope and Union believe that a film like The Inspection has the power to change hearts and minds when it comes to parents struggling to accept their LGBTQ children, comfort gay youth, and more.
“This movie exists for anyone who’s ever felt downtrodden, who’s ever felt overlooked, to see themselves in Ellis and say, ‘You know what? I have it in me to do better. Everyone who tells me I’m worthless, that’s a lie,” says Bratton. “Every good thought you think about yourself, that’s the truth.”
“For me, seeing is believing,” Pope says. “And I hope that this gift that we gave in making this film is something tangible for people who have ever felt abandoned. And know that there is healing and there is love on the other side, and that you are more than enough. So I believe in my heart and in that truth that it will resonate with the people it’s supposed to resonate with and ultimately change their perspective.”
Adds Union: “I think hurt people hurt people and healed people have the ability to help heal other people. And I think some people will come in there as hurt and identify themselves. They will recognize how ugly and dark this behavior is and that they have missed out on amazing people and a deeper, different kind of love that encompasses. The love they think they can control by forcing their children and family members to be whatever they need. Hopefully over the course of the film, they will realize how bad and unnecessary this behavior is and begin to release this evil and move towards healing. Possible. I saw it. You just have to want to do differently and you have to want to love differently and you have to know that you really don’t lose anything by loving completely.”
The Inspection playing now