Jeremy Pope Examines Masculinity As A Gay Black Marine In ‘The Inspection’

When Jeremy Pope was a young boy, he used to watch the 1996 movie The Preacher’s Wife, starring Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington, over and over. I watched it all year, even though it was a Christmas movie. In the movie, Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington had a baby named Jeremiah, and I kept thinking, ‘This is me: I’m supposed to be Whitney and Denzel’s son!’ I loved Whitney for what she was — her art, Her talent, her heart and her sincerity.”

This year, the 30-year-old talented actor plays a major role in a completely different kind of film – “The Inspection,” a biographical work by Elegance Bratton about a homeless gay black man who joins the Marines. Bob, who has been nominated for an Emmy (“Netflix series “Hollywood”) and two Tonys (“Choir Boy” and the Temptations musical “Ain’t Too Proud”), is critically acclaimed for his emotionally charged performance in the newly released A24 movie.

“I loved the script and the words Elegance on the Page, and I had a lot of questions about what happens after the movie ends,” says Pope. “We realized we had a lot of friends in common, so I felt like I met the third cousin you didn’t know existed.”

Pope waited nine months until he got the last word that the movie was moving forward and that he would star. Then came the emotional and physical challenges of a role that required weeks of training at boot camp in Jackson, Miss., during the 117-degree summer days and 19 grueling days of filming. The part also prompted the actor to revisit his own experiences as an eccentric black artist coming of age in Orlando.

Jeremy Pope and Raul Castillo in “The Inspection.”

(A24)

“I’ve played roles where I defy the definition of masculinity before,” he says. “I’ve been through my own journey of learning to love myself and stop my blackness and attractiveness. It can be hard and scary at times, because you feel so vulnerable. But when you work with a collaborator like Elegance who is able to see love and harmony outside of pain and trauma, it becomes a work of love.”

Bob admits he wasn’t always comfortable in his own skin. “It’s been a constant journey of evolving and learning to love new versions of yourself,” he says. “My dad was a pastor and a bodybuilder—two hypermasculine arenas who had very specific ideas of what a black man looked like and acted like. Black moms also teach you what it means to be a black man so you can be safe in this world, because sometimes, the world can be an unpleasant place. Very safe.”

He also states that he did not know any black gay movie stars when he was growing up. “I didn’t even know it was something I could strive for and achieve,” he says. “If you put this idea on our vision board, but would you laugh at it too? Can you take it seriously? How can you even get credits at a company that doesn’t want to give you credit opportunities? But I was fortunate to be able to work with collaborators.” They loved me for my version of who I was in that moment, for my heart and my intentions.”

Bob praises the understanding that came so naturally between him and Bratton. “I was able to look across the room at my writer-director who was also a black gay man, and there were things we didn’t have to explain to each other,” Pope recalls. “There is no shadow, but that was different from my explanation [‘Hollywood’ producer] Ryan Murphy What does it mean to be in this world or how do you interpret it and [the character] make these achievements. There were things I didn’t have to explain to Elegance, because he just knew.”

He also gives much of the credit to his co-star and executive producer on the film Gabrielle Union, who plays the lead’s tough and ruthless mother. “Gab and I have shared so many experiences, fun celebrity moments like the Met Gala. I’m also a huge fan of the work she does on the streets. She’s a true light and a national treasure for the black community. She found a true heart and soul for this character that people would consider tough on Surface. I am so grateful for the work she did in making this movie and for her appearing as my mother in this movie and for being my North Star.”

Next up for the versatile actor is portraying artist Jean-Michel Basquiat in the film adaptation of the play Collaboration. For now, he says he’s quite pleased with how audiences have responded to “Inspection.” I’ve been approached by a whole lot of people who tell me the movie has sat with them for days. They say thank you for your service. I hope this movie is a reason for someone to know there is a way out. Because I know that in the lowest moments of your life, it can be the most random thing that gives you a sense of faith. This movie can tell you that you can find acceptance, self-love, and a select family of people to love! And support you for who you are.”

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