Elegance Bratton is an expert in fiction. Throughout his career in the U.S. Marine Corps, he learned how to pretend to be things he wasn’t. It was how he survived as a Black gay man during the era of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
It comes as no surprise, then, that Bratton has carved out a post-military career in filmmaking. His directorial debut, “The Inspection,” is a fictionalized retelling of his own experience as a young, gay Black man who, after being shunned by his own mother for coming out, decides to join the Marine Corps.
“I was kicked out of the house at 16 for being gay, and I spent the next 10 years homeless,” he told Military Times. “I really thought that I was completely worthless, but fortunately, a drill instructor told me that your life is important, and you are important, and you matter.”
The Marine Corps, despite not accepting openly LGBTQIA+ service members until 2010, when Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed, provided Bratton with a family, he said, one that he supported and that cared for him in return, even though he was unable to discuss his sexuality.
“You have a responsibility to protect the Marine to your left to your right,” Bratton said. “That notion was transformative for me, because I had never had that kind of trust from someone before. And to be honest, it was enough. That’s what I needed to hear to kind of turn my life around.”
“The Inspection” is an emotionally grounding movie that looks at a time in U.S. military history when not all of its members were able to fully embrace a sense of self. Despite that codified intolerance, Bratton notes, he and his fellow Marines were able to learn to accept and embrace the different ways of life they all led.
“I think we’re at a time, politically, where the left and the right are screaming at each other from our differences, rather than actually listening to each other,” Bratton said. “The Marine Corps is where I learned how to not only listen to people who are very, very different from me, but how to form meaningful human connections with them. This dysfunctional family helped me to love myself more, even as they asked me to repress myself.”
And even though he did hide parts of himself, Bratton said the Corps was instrumental in helping him develop an identity.
“I was finally able to take a moment and completely contemplate who I am, which aspects of my personality were too risky for me to reveal and which aspects of my personality were actually the things that anybody could bond with me over.”
Although “The Inspection” is a fictionalized account of his personal experience, Bratton views it as very much nonfiction by way of its depiction of the emotions, introspections, and experiences.
Ahead of its theatrical release, Bratton compared his film to the 1976 Sylvester Stallone classic, “Rocky.” Both films feature flawed, down-on-their-luck protagonists who emerge as unlikely heroes, finally garnering respect from not only their peers, but themselves as well.
“This movie is for anyone who’s ever felt disregarded,” Brattan said. “Ultimately, it’s Black, gay Rocky.”
“The Inspection” hits theaters on Nov. 18.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.