I catch Elegance Bratton bathed in L.A. sunlight. He’s on a press tour for his semi-autobiographical film, “The Inspection,” which he wrote and directed. The movie stars Gabrielle Union and Jeremy Pope as a mother-son pair, Inez and Ellis French. When Inez finds out Ellis is gay, she kicks him out and he remains homeless for 10 years. Ellis chooses to join the Marines to reclaim his life and follow a different path while still hoping to repair his relationship with his mother. Produced by A24, “The Inspection” is in theaters now and will premiere on digital streaming services Dec. 22.
Bratton served in the Marine Corps for five years, where he was a combat filmmaker. He went on to study at Columbia University and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and has made films ever since. Now, he and his partner, Chester A. Gordon, have a home in Baltimore.
When we speak, he’s beaming though exhausted. Like many of us, he’s happy for the holiday season “when the city goes to bed.”
The Baltimore Banner: Why did you feel like you needed to tell the story of your life?
Elegance Bratton: I’ll say this, this isn’t the story of my life. This is a story from my life. I joined the Marine Corps, after 10 years homeless, and I was fortunate enough to have my drill instructor tell me that my life was valuable, because I had a responsibility to protect the Marine to my left and to my right. And I ran with that! It was transformational for me.
There are other schools of thought that teach that, but it just so happens that I was at a moment in my life where I got into the Marine Corps, heard it.
The Baltimore Banner: How did this project begin? How long were you writing it?
EB: I wrote the first draft of this as a student at NYU Tisch. I sold a TV show called “My House” to Viceland, and I knew I had to write a script to keep sustaining myself and working. I wrote three scripts in a month — one of them was “The Inspection.” When I was trying to choose which one to go forward with, Chester [partner and producer of “The Inspection”] told me, Look, what you’re best at as a storyteller is taking the audience to a place that they can’t go without you. After many labs and drafts, we were excited to work with [producer] Effie Brown and A24 to bring the movie to life.
TBB: In the trailer, Ellis says to his mother, “I’m not giving up on us,” despite their obvious conflict. What does that mean for you? Is that true for your own connection with your mother?
EB: My mother is a complicated woman. She was orphaned from the age of 10, and she never got the unconditional love in her entire life that I needed her to give me. She was the first person to ever love me completely and also reject me. Unfortunately, my mother was killed about three days after the movie was greenlit. So, when Ellis French says, “I’m never giving up on us,” it’s a lesson to say that you don’t necessarily have to. For me, my greatest source of strength is forgiveness — my ability to leave the problem with the person who’s caused it and move on to better options and outcomes.
I’m grateful for Gabrielle Union because she took on this challenge. She brought my mom back to life. She made it possible for me to have a sense of closure with my mother. Through the movie she used my mother’s Bible and wore her jewelry and it was a very healing experience for me because the mother-son relationship part of the movie? That’s 100% autobiographical.
TBB: What was it like to cast this film?
EB: You know, it was a complicated casting process for us because, well, the industry is complicated. There’s just not a lot of names of out queer Black actors, and Jeremy Pope was one of them and he had two Tony nominations in the same year, which was unheard, of so I knew I wanted him. It’s rare to see a movie with a man like me, a Black gay man, in the hero’s position. If they are, it’s cobbled together from other pieces and doesn’t feel authentic. Jeremy didn’t want to do that — he wanted it to be possible for future generations to see themselves in the film.
TBB: Why did you buy a house in Baltimore?
EB: A big reason of why [Chester and I] moved to Baltimore is because we wanted to buy a house in the city where we can support Black people and feel affirmed in our power as Black people. A place where we can actually make a difference for our people through our success, and we can be unapologetic about it. I’m getting that in Hollywood now, for sure but it’s just different like the sweet woman on my block who tells me, “Oh, I seen you in the paper!” It’s just different, I love it.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.