Out of the Celluloid Closet

The Deeper Queer Meaning Behind “The Inspection”

· Updated on October 4, 2023

To the average movie-goer, writer, and director Elegance Bratton and producer Chester Algernal Gordon’s film The Inspection is just another film highlighting homophobia and the struggles that one might endure while trying to make it as a Marine. However, for those who are Black and queer, the film is a telling story about the challenges we experience when it comes to navigating systems of inequity, family relationships, self-acceptance, and most importantly, the journey to finding peace.  

The hero of the film is Ellis French (Jeremy Pope), who must navigate the streets of New York after being put out by his mother after coming out. Fresh out of jail, French heads over to his mother’s home to let her know that he needs his birth certificate so that he can enlist as a Marine. The viewer quickly learns that there there is a mountain of resentment from his mother Inez (Gabrielle Union), most of which, we later learn, is focused on her son’s queerness.

In our conversation, both Bratton and Gordon made it clear that this film depicts the war that many Black queer people face on a daily basis. But more than anything, this film serves as a starting point when talking about the battle that we face to survive in systems that are not built for us to thrive. 

“I was homeless for 10 years for being gay,” Bratton shares, explaining that, like French, he too lived on the streets after coming out to his mother. But for Bratton it wasn’t just being homeless that was hard, it was navigating the pain of loneliness that made that time the most challenging. 

For Bratton, what got him through it in order for him to tell this story was understanding what could happen on the other side. “While I was feeling pretty alone during that time, what got me by was holding on to my faith,” says Bratton, faith that would one day lead him to having a film that not only is creating Oscar buzz, but a film that has a lead nominated for a Golden Globe. “I knew that triumphing over adversity is also triumphing over one’s loneliness.”

The Inspection is about the war that many Black queer people face on a daily basis.

A key factor in the film is giving queer Black people someone they can see themselves in in Ellis French. For Bratton, giving the audience a story they could understand was important, but what mattered most was giving the viewer someone that they could believe in. “I wanted to make a character that was true, but also could be an example,” Bratton explains. 

In The Inspection, Bratton and Gordon do exactly that. From overcoming the bouts of homonegativity to demanding the respect of both family and peers, French shows us that sometimes you can’t wait for the world to give you the respect you deserve. You have to demand it. 

Though it’s what the film doesn’t say outrightly that’s most powerful. “For me,” Bratton explained, “The Inspection is really about interrogating masculinity. I wanted to take a look at what male strength is.”

Throughout the film, Bratton and Gordon do exactly that—specifically highlighting what “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was really about. From moments where French finds hiding his emotions a challenge, to the moments where we see French wanting to fight back against the toxic masculinity he is experiencing both in and out of camp, the inspection of masculinity is loud and clear. 

From overcoming the bouts of homonegativity to demanding the respect of both family and peers, French shows us that sometimes you can’t wait for the world to give you the respect you deserve.

“I wanted people to see that forgiveness is not a sign of weakness,” Bratton shares, noting that both he and Gordon have had to learn this in their own personal lives in order to find peace in their own lives. “It’s about not carrying around the world’s problems with you and leaving the problem with the people who have it. Forgiveness allows you to let that pain go.” 

Bratton and Gordon also caution anyone who watches this film to note that this isn’t a film about trauma. “We have to contend with trauma in our lives, yes,” Bratton explains, “But the film isn’t exclusively about trauma. It’s a film about overcoming adversity. It’s about knowing the struggles you will face and knowing that you can and will survive as well as thrive, but it’s also knowing that just because something bad happened to you—it doesn’t mean you deserved it.” 


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Finally, I asked both Bratton and Gordon what advice they would give to young Black queer folks who are struggling in this day and age. Their advice was simple, yet extremely poignant. “Do whatever it is that you feel called to do,” Bratton noted. “Do whatever YOU want to do,” Gordon added. “If you want to be a scientist…or want to make movies inspired by things that have happened in your life, be whatever it is that you want to be.” 

They added that in order for us to fully thrive in this world, we can’t let what others think about us get in the way of our successes.  “Don’t be your own oppressor,” Bratton adds, reminding us that many of the negative things we think and feel about ourselves are thoughts given to us—thoughts that we don’t need to hold on to. “Someone told you that you don’t deserve good in life. Someone told you that you are an abomination. It’s hard to, but I promise that the best thing to do is to just leave those thoughts with the people who have them and not carry them in your own head.” 

Gordon adds, “Also – go watch the movie.” ♦

Jonathan P. Higgins, Ed.D. is a freelance journalist who examines the intersections of identity in entertainment. They are also the creator of the “Black Fat Femme” podcast on the IHeartMedia network. You can follow them online by using the handle @DoctorJonPaul.

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