Nimona 3x2

Source: Netflix


Representation matters, be it in cinema, on TV, or on the page. And representation matters especially to LGBTQ+ young people and their families. They need to see themselves reflected on screen, particularly in the animated feature arena where queer protagonists are few and far between.

With its theme of gender fluidity and shapeshifting, Oscar-nominated Nimona was deeply personal for its creator, ND Stevenson who suffered from dysphoria and began publishing the webcomic while a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. “I hadn’t seen a character like [Nimona] when I started the comic, and I wanted to see that character,” says Stevenson, who identifies as non-binary.

Set in a futuristic-medieval world, Nimona tells the story of the eponymous shapeshifter — usually a teenage girl, but able to transform into any human or animal —who joins forces with Ballister, a gay knight wrongfully convicted of murder.

When Netflix distributed the film theatrically in 190 territories in June 2023 audiences of all ages connected with its story and LGBTQ+ characters. “Nimona is an incredibly beautiful piece of queer media,” wrote one viewer on social media. “I cried and laughed with my partner as we watched it together.”

The sense of connection to the film’s message and themes extends to the filmmaking team. The involvement of Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures was motivated by a very personal desire.

“I relate to Nimona even though I’m a 38-year-old woman,” Ellison says. ”I have never felt so seen or represented in a movie. Being a woman, being a lesbian, being gender non-conformist, not having the societally idealised feminine body type leads to encountering a lot of hostility and shame as you go through life. If I’d seen this film as a kid I would have hated myself less, I would have felt more seen. That’s why I wanted to support this film — pain relief and joy.

“Stories are part of a shared fabric of how we understand the world and ourselves in it,” Ellison continues. “If people don’t see themselves represented at all, or only through the lens of dominant others, those who have experienced minimal othering in their lives, it tells them that they don’t matter or that they’re less than. It teaches shame, which leads to a lack of self-worth and self-love. That’s a painful life.

“Nimona is strong, funny and lovable, but she struggles. Her shape-shifting shows me I don’t need to conform; I can speak up and can be whoever I am. Queer people often have to shape-shift to survive. I would have been safer, sooner.”

Labour of love 

Netfix Nimona c Netflix

The film was a long labour of love for the creative team. It was back in 2012 that Stevensen ‘s online comic became an internet sensation, prompting HarperCollins to swoop in and publish the webcomic in book form in 2015. Hollywood then came calling and Stevenson partnered with Blue Sky Studios, the animation arm of 20th Century Fox and producers of Ice Age, to turn Nimona  into a movie. But things quickly started to go awry, as the script took several major departures from the source material, with lead character Nimona reduced to a sidekick and all the LGBTQ+ elements watered down. 

Then, in 2019, Disney bought Fox and assumed control of Blue Sky who, after several years’ of trying to get Nimona to work, had reached an impasse. Blue Sky organised a series of brainstorming sessions with its creative talent to find a way forward, opening the discussion to anyone who had strong feelings about the graphic novel and what it meant to them.

It became clear those artists and animators who were part of the LGBTQ+ ommunity, and who had felt the comic had spoken to them, wanted the film version to embrace the comic’s queer message.

“You could see that this movie meant so much to this group of people. And it was a thing that you couldn’t ignore,” says Nimona director Nick Bruno, who was then working on the studio’s spy pigeon comedy Spies In Disguise with Troy Quane.

While neither is part of the LGBTQ+ community, Bruno and Quane took over Nimona, rewriting the script to be true to Stevenson’s characters and intent, and battling Disney, a company not historically known for its LGBTQ+ leanings.

Meanwhile, an incredible voice cast was assembled, including Chloe Grace Moritz as Nimona, Riz Ahmed as Ballister and Eugene Lee Yang as Ballister’s lover and fellow knight Goldenloin.

Then, in April 2021, Disney announced it was closing Blue Sky and cancelling all projects, including Nimona which was still far from finished. But Nimona refused to die. A superhero arrived in the form of Annapurna Pictures’ Ellison.

And so, Annapurna bought Nimona from Disney, then partnered with DNEG Animation to finish it. 

“Queer family films open up a difficult conversation,” says Ellison. “Many parents think stories like these are trying to brainwash their children into leading a more painful life, they think they’re protecting them. But if stories can teach kids not to hate themselves, then by all means, let’s tell them. You can’t make someone gay. That’s not a thing. The only potential ‘cure’ to queerness is to love us. Stop excluding us.”

Nimona is available to watch on Netflix’s YouTube channel now until February 26.

Contact: Julie Tustin