Arts & Culture News

For One Filmmaker, Being Gay and Black in the Military Was an Experience Worthy of a Movie

Jeremy Pope, left, and Raul Castillo star in The Inspection, from Texas filmmaker Elegance Bratton.
Jeremy Pope, left, and Raul Castillo star in The Inspection, from Texas filmmaker Elegance Bratton. Courtesy of A24
For his feature film directorial debut, director Elegance Bratton looked back on his own experiences. With The Inspection, he tells the story of his time in the Marines as a gay Black man.

In the film, which was released in theaters on Nov. 18, Pose and Hollywood actor Jeremy Pope plays Ellis French, a character based on Bratton, who served in the Marines from 2005 to 2010. During his experience at boot camp, French is under the command of a sadistic drill instructor named Leland Laws (Bokeem Woodbine) and a superior named Rosales, played by McAllen native Raul Castillo.

When we're introduced to French, he is homeless after being kicked out by his homophobic mother (Gabrielle Union). He joins the Marines in an attempt to repair his relationship with his mother and finds that he must learn to make a family among the recruits, even though homosexuality is frowned upon in the military.

In a particularly harrowing scene early on in the movie, French faces some violent consequences after he's visibly aroused while showering with other recruits. According to Bratton, something similar happened during his own time at boot camp.

“I had a uniformed man telling me which parts of my body to touch, and to wash, and I was like, ‘Oh wait, I can’t be turned on by this,’" Bratton says. "I wasn't invited to play sports with other boys my age, I wasn't invited to fix the car, I wasn't invited to do those kinds of boy things that create this currency amongst men in society. So I really had never had a locker room experience with other guys before.”

Throughout the film, which is in distribution by A24 Films, French finds an ally in Rosales, who encourages French to be who he is and reminds him that he belongs among the other recruits.

Like Rosales, Castillo himself is not a member of the LGBTQ+ community; however, he has starred in several LGBTQ-centric films and TV series, including Looking and We the Animals. Castillo says he didn’t participate in sports, but found solace in theater growing up.
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Filmmaker Elegance Bratton recounts his experience as an outsider in the military.
Courtesy of A24

“As a kid, I was a deeply sensitive boy,” Castillo says. “And growing up in South Texas, to be sensitive and be a boy was something that wasn’t really celebrated in a very patriarchal community. I always had to grapple with honoring my sensitivity, but also, at times, being burdened by it.”

Because of his artistic nature, Castillo says he’s always been drawn to more nuanced depictions of masculinity. He credits this to queer theater teachers and directors he had growing up in South Texas, who gave him the space to be himself.

“Queer artists have always been my champions,” Castillo says. “I’ve always found myself and my work to be intersectional. Queer artists often seek me out and champion me, and I feel very fortunate for that.”

Bratton was kicked out of his home at age 16 and was homeless for a decade before joining the Marines. Much of The Inspection mirrors his real life, like one moment in which a character tells another, “If we got rid of every gay person in the military, there would be no military.”

Bratton says he learned several important lessons through his trying times in the military and hopes that The Inspection will push the needle for more acceptance across every institution.

“For me, coming to the Marine Corps with this idea that I was valueless, that my life had no meaning, and then having a transformational lesson offered to me, that my meaning in the value of my life is determined by my ability to protect the person to my left, and to my right, was a valuable lesson,” Bratton says. “And I think this is why queer people show up to spaces that traditionally don't welcome them. Because in that process of being there, you change it.”
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Alex Gonzalez has been a contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2018. He is a Dallas native whose work has appeared in Local Profile, MTV News and the Austin American-Statesman. He has eclectic taste in music and enjoys writing about art, food and culture.
Contact: Alex Gonzalez

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