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Elegance Bratton Discusses ‘The Inspection,’ and Triumph Over Adversity

Written by on November 21, 2022

THE INSPECTION. Credit : Josiah Rundles/A24 Films

Ayana Contreras: For this particular film, you were really blessed with an amazing cast of characters, in general, including my personal favorite, Bokeem Woodbine, and Jeremy, who was amazing in this movie. I mean, the amount of communication and the emotive nature of what he left unsaid, I think was super notable.

EB: Yeah. I mean, Jeremy’s a gifted, gifted performer. I don’t know, it’s weird. I remember I stopped bringing up Michael Jackson, because… he’s a very triggering name these days. But for me growing up, he was the example of what a superstar is, and everything else was comparison to Michael Jackson. And you see Michael Jackson on camera talking and he’s so quiet, it’s like mouse-like, right? And then as soon as that light gets on him, he’s like the most famous, vibrant person that you’ve ever seen.

Jeremy has a similar quiet, loud quality as an artist, where when you meet him, is very humble, is very unassuming. I mean, he’s got perfect posture, but his energy feels like he’s slapshing it away. And that’s the tone you’re talking to the scenes with him. And then once that camera is set up, once it’s called, “Action,” he harnesses all of the energy around him and within him and he’s literally incandescent. And to watch someone turn that off and turn that on so effortlessly was just awe-inspiring. It’s like the eighth wonder of the world to be in the presence of.

Jeremy, what was important to me in casting that role was the authenticity of having a Black, queer actor playing this role, an out queer Black actor. Because as a Black, gay man, we don’t often get to be the heroes of stories. We’re the accessory to the hero, the handbag, if you will, to the hero. And we live in a world where, for Black, gay men, it’s hard for us to come of age. And Jeremy and I would talk often about what it would’ve meant to us to have had a character, French, when we were 15, 16, 17 years old. So his phenomenal gifts as a artist, his authenticity as a human being, his leadership qualities as the top, he is our leading man.

However he handles things, it’s going to trickle down. And his awareness of that and his commitment and discipline to holding that space on that set, just awe-inspiring. Every day, I was impressed by him. Now Bokeem, honestly, we were looking for a while for Laws, but months and months, maybe a hundred different audition tapes for this character, and some really notable actors since some stuff said, and they were fantastic. I’m a ’90s kid. I grew up on Bokeem Woodbine. Bokeem Woodbine, Dead Presidents was my movie. I’ve seen that movie 40 times. I thought his performance in Life is just so, so, so good.

And to me, it’s like Harvey Keitel, Robert DeNiro, Bokeem Woodbine, he’s that kind of actor to me, that New York kind of actor. So apparently, what I heard is, his agent had gotten the script and given it Bokeem. Bokeem read it and liked it. I got this in a text. And as soon as I got that text, I texted everybody at A24… I was like, “We’re done. We don’t need to find anybody else. We got Bokeem.” And we just ran with it. We you meet Bokeem in person, he’s a gentleman. This man is like refined scotch. You know what I’m saying?

He’s just a full essence of the chivalry and the manners and the tailoring. Everything about him just screams refinement. And that was a really pleasant surprise. I mean, you just don’t know people until you know them. So to spend time around Bokeem, he was a mentor to me as well, just in terms of how to carry myself as an older man. I would look at Bokeem and take notes and try to bring some of those qualities into my life. I admire this whole group deeply.

Jeremy Pope, left, Gabrielle Union and Elegance Bratton pose for a portrait to promote ‘The Inspection’ on Friday, Oct. 14, 2022, in New York. (Photo by Matt Licari/Invision/AP)

Ayana Contreras: The film is titled The Inspection. And I don’t believe in spoilers, but there is a culminating scene where there is a military inspection at the end of bootcamp. But at the same time, there’s a really pivotal moment with French’s mother and French that, from my eyes, looked to be an inspection of another sort, after this transformative moment that you talked about. When you titled the film, what were you referencing specifically?

EB: There’s a couple things. As a Marine, inspection is a part of life. Just as an example, if you’re in your barracks room, and say you’re a private and a corporal shows up, the corporal, theoretically, is inspecting your room already. The presence of a higher-ranking person means that an inspection is underway. And I, excuse me. It was interesting to me, because I grew up in my own version of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in my household, and I was always being compared, inspected against other boys and men.

And I come to realize the reason why I felt so much in the military is because I was used to the idea of other men looking me up and down to determine whether or not I was man enough, gay, straight, what have you. My name is Elegance, you know what I’m saying? Any room I’ve ever been to, everyone has assumed that I’m gay, and they’re right. So that assumption means that any time I walk into a room that people are expecting me in, they are inspecting me. They are trying to see if I measure up to the name in some way, shape, or form, will I be as flamboyant as the name suggests, so on and so forth.

In the Marine Corps, the inspection is how you get promoted, it’s how you get your rank, it’s how you qualify for your weapons and all that kind of stuff. So I started to see this overlap between, when you look at it from the lens of say, Simone de Beauvoir, who wrote the book, The Second Sex. She says, “Girls are not born women, they become women.” And then it’s a sociopolitical process that informs that transformation. I believe the same thing to be true about men, and the Marine Corps is the Harvard of masculinity. And each one of these men in this film, the movie begins and French, thinks, “Oh, I’m going to fail because I’m gay. I’m going to be the only one who can’t live up to this.”

Slowly but surely, as the story unfold, he realizes, and the audience I hope realizes, all these men have been giving an impossible task of being the perfect Marine, of being a real man. And in that space where you fall short is where your brothers come in and lift you up. So, that’s why it’s called The Inspection, right? It’s the idea that we’re always being asked to measure up to an impossible standard. We’re all looking at each other up and down, changing our bodies, changing our minds, changing our language, just so that we can be seen as respectable, just so that we could pass through. I wanted to invoke that spirit through the title.

Ayana Contreras: Congratulations. I actually am going to buy a ticket to see the film again in the theater. Exciting. Yay.

EB: Thank you.

Ayana Contreras: Yeah, I appreciate you.

EB: I appreciate you, too. And I’m definitely going to bring bae out to Chicago once it gets warm again. And we all…

Ayana Contreras: Right. Because it’s snowing, snowing for real. Yeah.

EB: It’s snowing now?

Ayana Contreras: Shh… Just a little dust.

EB: Oh, my God. That’s so-

Ayana Contreras: It’s really beautiful.

EB: I’m in LA now. I’m like, I don’t need four seasons anymore. Just, you know what I mean? I’ll watch a Christmas movie to see some snow.

Ayana Contreras: That’s fair. That’s fair. But I get elbow length gloves, though. Come on.

EB: Well, that’s worth it. Well, one thing that you will not play with is a possibility for winter and fashion.

Ayana Contreras: That’s right.

EB: I feel like winter is the moment where you can look your most dramatic and just fabulous.

Ayana Contreras: Yeah, that’s true.

EB: Because you have layers. It’s like you’ve got many odd points of fascination. Many places for the eye to land, you know? So maybe I do like winter, then. Maybe I like winter.

Ayana Contreras: You can, just a little taste of winter. You don’t need the whole thing, the whole slog.

EB: Yes, yes.

Ayana Contreras: So, all right. Well, thank you so much for your time. I appreciate you.

EB: Thank you. I appreciate you, too. We’ll talk soon.

Ayana Contreras: Right, bye.

EB: Cheers.

Follow Elegance Bratton on Instagram.

Learn more about The Inspection on A24’s website.

Interview, written introduction and transcription by Ayana Contreras

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