The Inspection is written and inspired by Elegance Bratton’s experience as a Black gay man at a Marine Corps boot camp. Released in 2022, the film is Bratton’s directorial debut.
In the semi-autobiographical film, Bratton depicts a difficult moment in his life in 2005. Prejudice denies him acceptance and opportunities in life. He strives to overcome obstacles by sheer persistence, hanging onto self-respect in the process.
The opening scene shows protagonist Ellis French being released from prison. It’s clear his life hasn’t been easy, and he continues to face hardships. The only “crime” he’s apparently committed is being gay.
Jeremy Pope, who plays French, is an Emmy-winning actor for his role as Archie Coleman in Hollywood in 2019. That same year, he was nominated for two Tony Awards for leading role in a play and featured role in a musical. Pope does such a wonderful job as the protagonist that it’s easy to forget this is not his life experience he is portraying.
Estranged from an unsupportive mother who cannot bring herself to accept her son’s sexual orientation, French has had to fend for himself since the age of 16.
Audiences will also note before the credits start rolling that Bratton dedicated the film to his mother, who died in 2020.
During a brief post-jail visit, French asks his mother for his birth certificate so he can join the Marines. When he tells his mother he’s hit a wall and something has to change, she asks if he has changed his “lifestyle choice.”
Gabrielle Union’s depiction of French’s religious, homophobic mother was initially difficult for her. In real life, she is an outspoken supporter of of gay communities and the parent of a transgender daughter. Union calls on inner strength to successfully tackle her challenging role.
French presses on with his plan. He is determined to pass boot-camp training, which starts the moment he steps off the bus. Marine instructors scream at the recruits, belittling them. The sadistic sergeant tells his charges, “I will break you, I promise. I hate recruits.”
Early on in training, an episode reveals French’s sexual orientation. Fellow recruits and Marine instructors start the mistreatment. The main torturer is the white son of a Marine who revels in humiliating French at every turn.
Bokeem Woodbine, an award-nominated actor, does a credible job as the sadistic sergeant, and audience members will likely cringe whenever he enters a scene.
Exacerbating the situation is French’s erotic dreams of fellow recruits. He also experiences heartbreak over a more empathetic superior. The camerawork adds to the telling of the story. On occasion, actors’ facial expressions are used effectively in lieu of dialogue.
Animal Collective provides the film’s score, matching onscreen emotion to music. The final song, “The Hands,” with vocals from StemsMusic Choir, is melancholically uplifting.
Thematically, The Inspection is about the true story of triumph over tribulation. It depicts the Marines, despite their inhumane bootcamp treatment, as a community of care and acceptance.
French’s perseverance amidst the rigor of boot camp earns respect from his comrades. He wins over a system stacked against him, built to ensure failure for people like him.
Ultimately a queer film, The Inspection is a “zero-to-hero” story, a tale of redemption.
Published in Volume 77, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 12, 2023)