–Louis Gossett Jr: “Where are you from, boy?”
-David Keith: “Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, sir.”
–Louis Gossett Jr: “Ahh! Only two things come out of Oklahoma. Steers and queers. Which one are you, boy? I don’t see no horns. You must be a queer.”
David Keith: “I ain’t no queer sir.
First day of basic training in Taylor Hackford’s 1982 smash “An Officer and a Gentleman” starring Richard Gere and Debra Winger. Original screenplay by Douglas Day Stewart.
Just a few nights ago, my husband Jack and I took our evening constitutional around West Hollywood where we have lived together for over twenty years. It’s about nine-thirty, and we have just crossed Crescent Heights/Laurel Canyon going west on the south side of Sunset. The Sunset 5 is behind us, and we are facing the Château Marmot in all its (faux) Loire Valley splendor. It was then that something hit my forehead. The event occurred with such speed that, for a split second, I was uncertain if it happened at all. Yet somehow, those old neural pathways were active enough to comfort me with a visual picture of a car displacing some newly placed gravel on the notoriously Pothole-prone Sunset. No big deal. It was only after the initial shock had worn off (all these thoughts and emotions are rushing by in milliseconds) that I heard the two dreaded words. Words that had not been directed my way in almost three decades: FUCKING FAGGOT. It was a bunch of guys driving east on Sunset and they had hurled a rock at me, intending to hurt me. Today it would be called a hate crime. In Ireland, in the seventies and eighties, it would be called a practical joke.
This was (luckily) only the second time I was on the receiving end of overt homophobia since I arrived in the United States in 1992. The other incident was when I was doing my residency in Pathology at the University of Washington, Seattle. It was a beautiful Friday evening (no rain) in the spring of 1994, and I was walking with my friend Patrick on the well-kept avenues of Capitol Hill, the Gay part of town. We thought we were safe! It was a similar scenario; a car filled with young people (guys and girls on that occasion), the word FAGGOT, and a milkshake as the offending weapon. Again, no serious injuries. Just me crawling back to my apartment feeling like a piece of garbage. All those plans for dancing at the clubs vanished in a massive attack of self-hatred.
And then the memories of Dallas in the early eighties. An opportunity to work for an extended summer at a lab at the University of Texas Health Science Center adjacent to Parkland Hospital. It’s my first Saturday night, and my mentor has arranged for me to dance downtown (we’re talking about the music of Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson, The Talking Heads, and The Clash) with some of the young people who work in the lab. Most of the guys are, like me, in medical school. Aspiring doctors. It’s the worst days of the AIDS epidemic, and HIV is rampant. I’m 22 and still in the closet. We are driving in Oaklawn, and as we pass JR’s, the predominant gay bar in the city, a patron who has just exited is sideswiped by the car in front of us and is on the ground, unable to get up (the offending car drives off!). You would think that these, straight, future doctors of the great state of Texas would stop to help. No. They are whooping and hollering THEY HIT HIM BECAUSE HE’S A FAGGOT, THEY HIT HIM BECAUSE HE’S A FAGGOT. I said nothing! We emulate the behavior of the perpetrators in the car ahead of us and drive off into the night.
Homophobia never dies and cowardice is its constant companion.
I think my behavior in these three instances is symbolic of being at the receiving end of hate, whether the hatred is intentional or not. You turn in on yourself. My first thought on Sunset, after I was aware of what happened, was, why me? Why me and not Jack? Was it because I was walking on the outside and therefore more vulnerable, or was it because I looked like a faggot. Jack wanted me to go to the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station and report a hate crime. He also wanted me to go to ER and get checked out. I would have none of it. I just wanted to crawl home and vanish, my faith in humans having been set back forty years
And that, my friends, is a longwinded introduction to Elegance Bratton’s “The Inspection”. Why you should see it. And, more importantly, why you should see Jeremy Pope’s magnificent performance.
Pope plays Ellis French, a gay man thrown out of the house by his mother (Gabrielle Union in a striking performance that is, nevertheless, too small a part and too incomplete a role to make a lasting Oscar-winning impression) who disapproves of his sexual orientation. With very few options and a life of homelessness and drug addiction staring him in the face, he decides to enlist in the Marines – the movie is set in the early aughts and is autobiographical: Bratton, who makes a confident directorial debut here, was an enlisted marine for five years.
Things go smoothly at first with “just” the rigors of boot camp training. These do not appear to have changed much since drill sergeant Louis Gossett Jr. tormented Richard Gere and David Keith in “An Officer and a Gentleman” (here Gossett is replaced by another gifted Black actor Bookeem Woodbine). It’s only after “French,” as they call him, is discovered with a boner in the shower that the hazing and homophobia reach unbearable levels. His only support during these months of torture is corporal Rosales (Raul Castillo, excellent), who, in a well-executed masturbatory sequence set in the sex club of French’s fantasies, becomes the obscure object of French’s desires.
Otherwise, there is little here that we have not seen before. The revelation is Pope. Those big, beautiful, expressive eyes speak volumes and question volumes. A gay man, you feel his star presence and his queerness and, although I am very much against the only gay people should play gay roles dogma of Russell T Davies (“Queer AS Folk” / “It’s a Sin”), in this specific case, I think, it works. The fact that editor Oriana Soddu prolongs each scene to its breaking point also enhances his magnetism.