Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024

Introduction to Nate Stevenson’s Creative Force

Nate Stevenson creates a creative force within the narrative that delivers a universal message of acceptance within households, friendship, and same-sex love worldwide. ND Stevenson’s popular webcomic turned graphic novel has been adapted into a film that premiered on Netflix on June 30th. Nimona ensures that viewers of all ages will not hesitate about the romantic inclinations of knights Ambrosius Goldenloin and Ballister Boldheart. Directed by Troy Quane and Nick Bruno, the film transports audiences to a medieval-futuristic kingdom, where Ballister must clear his name and prove his honor to Ambrosius, who accuses him of the queen’s murder. Eugene Lee Yang, who voices Ambrosius, expresses the joy of offering audiences the chance to witness representation he did not have while growing up, which he finds rejuvenating. Yang explains that LGBT+ individuals find ways to extract meaning from various forms of media. Often, they refer to Disney villains as classic examples, connecting this to the fact that many of the primary animators responsible for the characters are also queer.

With Nimona as the source material for the film, sexual diversity, acceptance, and queer coding are naturally integrated. Films like Nimona allow Yang to realize he did not have the privilege of growing up with them. Like many perceptive young viewers, he learned to identify subtle signs of LGBTQ+ representation. Playfully, he mentions that if he saw two boys exchanging specific glances, he would interpret it as a reference to homosexuality. This bold queer adventure captivates audiences of all generations, evoking empathy in readers who have long-awaited representation. Judging by the positive response from the packed audience at the family screening in TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto, Nimona has the potential to be one of the best films of 2023. It is refreshing to witness a film prioritizing authenticity over being the first to emerge.

Ambrosius and Ballister’s Bond

Just as young readers recognize that Ambrosius and Ballister share a more profound connection beyond mere friendship, Nimona, Ballister’s loyal companion, can quickly transform her body into various forms. When she transforms from a human into a whale, shark, or rhinoceros while remaining true to herself, readers have long regarded Nimona as a symbol of gender nonconforming and transgender experiences. In addition to revealing their gender identity after writing the comic, ND Stevenson acknowledges that creating the adventure while undergoing their journey allowed for incorporating subtle themes and imagery. They did not always understand their own transgender identity or that of others. It took years before they began to understand themselves. The book was their way of creating queer characters through which they could live vicariously and explore those aspects of themselves in a safe space.

Challenging Labels and Embracing Fluidity

Boldly, Nimona challenges labels as she assists Ballister in her ever-changing forms. However, the knight often assumes a parental role with Nimona, reminding her she is a girl when she behaves boisterously. Nonetheless, Nimona, resembling a stubborn teenager in her human form, rejects societal expectations. She firmly corrects Ballister, stating, “I’m Nimona.” As the reluctant hero refuses to be categorized, Nimona conveys a positive message about the power that comes from existing outside the norm. According to ND Stevenson, at the core of Nimona lies her mysterious nature. Acceptance is at the heart of this film; regardless of whether one fully understands someone, acceptance, and love take precedence.

In addition to Nimona’s shape-shifting abilities, the film enhances the representation of queer characters in animation by portraying Ambrosius and Ballister. The knights, who tend to lean towards anti-heroism in ND Stevenson’s comic, shift closer to the film’s positive side of the spectrum between good and evil. They are two strong figures with both tenderness and strength. As Ballister finds himself on the run after being falsely accused of the queen’s murder, Ambrosius pursues his boyfriend and garners attention. The film defies the cliché of effeminate gay characters, where men in touch with their feminine side are often used for comedic effect or viewed as untrustworthy. According to Yang, he extensively discussed this concern with ND Stevenson.

Character Redesign

Ambrosius underwent the most significant character redesign in the graphic novel. ND Stevenson shared his worries with the filmmakers regarding the potential for Ambrosius’s femininity to become the target of jokes as an antagonist. Instead, Goldenloin embodies an actual prince charming with his stylishly groomed lavender-scented hair. Yang appreciates how the character of Ambrosius allowed him to explore aspects of gender expression. According to him, society itself feels highly patriarchal. Within the system, Ambrosius is a masculine man who tries to embody the ideal representative. Nevertheless, he is sweet and gentle when he is with his boyfriend. The nuanced dichotomy in his character was highly intriguing in this adaptation.

Furthermore, Nimona respects the audience’s maturity regarding the relationship between the knights. The film leaves no ambiguity about whether they are a couple. From the film’s beginning, Ambrosius and Ballister are established as a couple, and their first interaction reinforces their love. However, the romance has been a source of controversy during the tumultuous eight-year production of Nimona.

Blue Sky’s Journey from Creation to Disney Acquisition and Closure

Blue Sky, the production company that created Nimona, was acquired by Disney as part of the Fox merger in 2019. Later, it was shut down in 2021. Former Blue Sky employees revealed that Disney executives felt uncomfortable with the film’s same-sex kiss and queer representation. Creative differences and business decisions arose when multiple animation studios were merged under Disney’s umbrella. Initially, there was much fear about whether they wanted to limit the audience this way. As a transgender and gay person, ND Stevenson added that the threats to Nimona‘s story’s authenticity, with its strong queerness, only strengthened the creators’ determination. When Disney bought Fox and Nimona suddenly became a Disney film, he saw people fighting even harder and wholeheartedly embracing it. That rebellious spirit is what carried them through. The same-sex kiss is included in the Netflix film, and the casual tenderness of the kiss is one of Nimona‘s most significant victories. Yang expresses his enthusiasm for portraying the character and having the opportunity to kiss the prince. The kiss is not a climactic moment after a battle. Instead, it is a simple everyday display of affection in front of the public.

Furthermore, the absence of ambiguity in the knights’ relationship makes Nimona one of the few studio films this year featuring two LGBTQ+ main characters without a coming-out narrative. For Yang, coming-out stories will always have their place. However, he notes that Nimona‘s uniqueness lies in its confrontation with the culture of oppression that continually forces LGBT individuals to disclose their sexual orientation in social environments. With Nimona being this chaotic spark that essentially aims to change everything, the theme of identity is confidently embedded in the DNA of these characters. Their struggles are not about being gay or conforming to gender norms. Their struggle is about surviving under a regime. It aligns with the queer experience, and it is hoped that people can relate to it as they reflect on their daily lives and the situation in countries like ours.

Yang’s perspective resonates in every frame of Nimona. The film’s creative team understands the power, reach, and platform they have at a time when LGBTQ+ rights are facing stronger attacks. Presenting a queer film that invites families to celebrate love in all its forms is a courageous step. Given that creators of LGBTQ+-friendly content are often labeled as “intruders,” the film recognizes the audience that needs it the most. Yang sees Nimona‘s arrival at this moment as part of a recurring cycle, similar to the attacks on LGBT teachers in the 70s, gay marriage, and later on bathroom bills.

A Proclamation of Joy and Empowerment

Nimona is not just a response; it is a proclamation of joy. It is an engaging, fun, complex film that also delivers the message that these kids ask one person to see them. ND Stevenson acknowledges that while the Nimona graphic novel has not appeared on any banned book lists, they anticipate controversy surrounding the film. However, they encourage people to see beyond the influence of a vocal minority. Nimona challenges dominant philosophies and encourages us to understand various perspectives while standing against them.

With the Institute representing a fusion of futuristic and medieval elements, the world depicted in the story is captivating. Clad in gleaming armor, knights ride mechanical horses and wield bows with laser beams. Despite its modern setting with television and smartphones, it also captures the simple rural life of hardworking farmers. The contrasts highlight that technological advancements sometimes mean increased acceptance by corporations and individuals. Technology often gives them more tools to marginalize those who do not fit their standards. While some aspects of the characters and specific world may be visually less appealing, Nimona effectively portrays the essence of the source material.

According to ND Stevenson, Nimona was initially not planned as a story about transgender individuals. Over the years, the story gained deeper meaning that reflects a sense of ownership. It mirrors our society in a grim yet liberating way. The story also hints at a future full of optimism and hope. By transforming into a shark to challenge symbols of authority that hinder her, the story rightfully makes her voice heard and changes the conversation in a world that is often misunderstood. Visualizing what we want to see in a story can be challenging. It requires all of us to imagine something beyond what we have witnessed. In many ways, the passing of the torch reduces the fear and pressure of being the first. Now, ND Stevenson can focus on the torch handed to him and how the story can push the boundaries for more innovative animated films in the future.


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