“Nimona”  film illustrates acceptance, resilience, queerness in fantasy world

The animated film “Nimona,” based on a graphic novel by ND Stevenson of the same name, is an unabashedly queer film. Despite various production issues, the film has finally been released, to the delight of viewers.   

The movie, released on Netflix in June, has been met with a positive reception, including a 94% from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, as well as charting on Netflix’s weekly Top 10 list in 26 countries. However, getting there was no small feat. 

Stevenson originally created “Nimona” as a webcomic in 2012 and later published it as a graphic novel, to critical acclaim. It was therefore no surprise when, 20th Century Fox acquired the rights to create a film based on the webcomic in 2015. 

The trouble began when Disney bought 20th Century Fox in 2019. At the time, “Nimona” was in production at the Fox subsidiary Blue Sky Studios, who created the “Ice Age” series and “Ferdinand.”

According to Business Insider, the “Nimona” team began to feel pressure from Disney leadership about the queer themes of the work, especially concerning a same-sex kiss that was to be included. The project was delayed by Disney multiple times before Blue Sky Studios shut down entirely in February 2021, ahead of the film’s scheduled January 2022 release. The film was roughly 75% complete.

The release delay was speculatively impacted by the queer themes of the film, both a gay relationship being central to the plot and the overarching themes of gender identity represented by the titular character. Unlike many of Disney’s other “first gay characters,” these couldn’t have been cut or sensored as they are integral parts of the story.

Luckily, despite these obstacles, this story has a happy ending. Another studio, Annapurna Pictures, picked up Nimona following the Blue Sky closure. There, the team finished the film and sold the distribution rights over to Netflix, where it was eventually released in June.

“Nimona” is an incredible story about persevering against those who attempt to sand down your edges and reject integral parts of you. The film asks hard questions about societal conformity, social change and gender identity and it is also a good movie.

In the film, the titular Nimona is a shapeshifter who has spent her life exiled from society. She meets Ballister Boldheart, a fugitive knight framed for killing the queen, and the two set out to try to clear Ballister’s name. Both have become outsiders to society at large, but while Ballister is trying to find his way back in, Nimona rejects the system entirely. “Nimona” takes place 1000 years after a monster attack forced  their society to build walls all around itself for protection from the monsters on the outside. The nobility is tasked with becoming knights to protect the citizens of the realm, despite the fact that no one ever goes outside the walls. 

Our story begins in earnest when, at the knighting of Ballister, the first commoner ever to attain this position, the sword he is being knighted with releases a magical attack that kills the queen, and forces him to go on the run, lest he be imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. 

Enter Nimona, a so-called monster, due to her being a shapeshifter. After hearing about the supposed queen killer, she sees a kindred spirit, someone else on the outside of society, and maybe, someone who could understand her. The two join forces in order to prove Ballister’s innocence, but where Ballister wants only to return to his position he fought so hard to obtain, Nimona doesn’t see the point in seeking approval from the society that so firmly rejected her. 

This is reflected in their dynamic as well, with Ballister trying to view Nimona in terms of what sort of boxes he can put her in to understand her when it comes to her shape changing abilities. Nimona is not a human who can shapeshift; she is a shapeshifter, and thus she is herself in any form she takes. 

It is this lack of understanding of who she is that eventually causes the climax of the film. After being misunderstood and rejected by society, Nimona assumes a monstrous form to match people’s view of her. 

She lashes out at the people and society who never bothered to understand who she was. This attack is only ended after Ballister finally sees her for who she is, not a girl who sometimes turns into other things, but as Nimona.

In the end Nimona does not need to change who she is in order to be accepted. This idea is so important coming from a film that centers around a character who,  while never explicitly labeled, clearly is not cisgender. 

Especially now, when trans people are under attack by both individuals and entire state governments, this message saying, “Don’t give up, you deserve happiness, you deserve to live,” is crucial. This notion shines throughout the film, in both the sheer joy on Ballister’s face after learning that Nimona is alive, and  in the final speech he gives, echoing a point Nimona made at the beginning of the film. 

Nimona begins the film saying, “Some of us don’t get the happily ever after we were looking for. Maybe it’s not that kind of kingdom.” However, instead of leaving it there, Ballister adds onto this sentiment, saying, “Or maybe it’s not the end of the story.”

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