by Celina Colby

The Coolidge Corner Theatre awarded filmmaker Elegance Bratton their inaugural Coolidge Breakthrough Artist Award on January 27. The groundbreaking artist won the award for his film “The Inspection.”

Based on the true story of Bratton’s life, “The Inspection” follows a young, gay Black man named Ellis French (Jeremy Pope) who has been kicked out of his mother’s home for his sexuality. He was homeless for ten years before joining the Marine Corps as a way to break into a new life. Here he finds a new purpose and after a time, community.

“This whole movie to me is about re-approaching notions of masculinity,” said Bratton during a Q&A at the award ceremony. “This idea of pain being weakness leaving the body is a refrain that you hear in boot camp all the time, and I think it’s kind of emblematic of one of the tenants of what we believe to be acceptable masculinity.” Bratton’s goal was to include characteristics like empathy and forgiveness in that definition of masculinity and strength.

“The Inspection” was nominated for a Golden Globe, a phenomenal feat for Bratton as a first-time narrative filmmaker. The Coolidge team knew from their first viewing that Bratton deserved the inaugural award. This depth of work in an initial film can only herald great projects to come. Bratton was assigned to film and photography duty while in the Marine Corps, capturing the day-to-day experiences of the troops. It was here that he developed his love for the film medium.

Bratton and his husband and producer Chester Algernal Gordon shot the film with the crew in 11 days during a sweltering Mississippi summer. The scenes in “The Inspection” that show the Marine recruits sweating and suffering during their outdoor drills are completely genuine, they were out there running those drills in over 100-degree heat.

But it wasn’t just the reality of Marine training, and in some cases abuse, that Bratton wanted to highlight. Queer representation was an essential component of creating the film. Having never grown up seeing positive representations of queer protagonists in film, Bratton wanted to create that for other viewers.

“Casting an out queer Black actor was really important to me,” he said. “I just really wanted to remind people of the essential value of Black queer people in this world. We absolutely need characters like Ellis French to remind people that they deserve to be here and that they’re wanted here, they’re valued here.”

You can watch “The Inspection” on Amazon Prime Video, YouTube Premium, AppleTV, and Redbox.