Requiem for Nimona

Last month, the world of animation faced some sad news: Blue Sky Studios, the folks behind Gen Z staples like Ice Age and Rio, was being shuddered by its goliath parent company, Disney. The rare East Coast animation studio, with its own perspective and approach to storytelling, is a thing of the past. Look, I want to see the Avengers and X-Men team up as much as anyone else, but Disney holds a disturbing amount of power over the media landscape, and the thousands of people losing their jobs right now can attest to that.

But there’s one particular thing that hurts, and that’s the fact that closing down Blue Sky meant scrapping the movie it had in-production and set to be released next year: an adaptation of Noelle Stevenson’s graphic novel Nimona. This had the possibility to be something really special, and that’s what I’m here to talk about today.

Nimona began its life as a webcomic in 2012, part of Stevenson’s senior thesis project at Maryland Institute College of Art. Its run concluded in 2014, and it was compiled into a proper graphic novel in 2015. In that form, it won the Eisner Award for YA Graphic Novel and was nominated for a National Book Award. Nimona launched Stevenson’s career, including the also excellent Lumberjanes, and more recently, they helmed the Netflix reboot of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power

Stevenson’s work is cute, colorful, fun, but also poignant and full of big ideas about gender and sexuality from the all-too-rare non-binary creator. Nimona is no exception. The story takes place in a science-fantasy world governed by the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. Our title character, a spunky young shapeshifter, gets a job working for the supervillain Ballister Blackheart, arch nemesis and ex-boyfriend to Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin. I won’t go into any more detail because you should absolutely read it yourself, but it is hilarious, beautiful, heartbreaking, and so unique that the more I think about what Disney did, the angrier I get.

While there’s plenty of fun with worldbuilding and epic science fantasy battles, at its heart are three amazing characters — Nimona herself, Blackheart, and Goldenloin. For one thing, none of them are the straight-up “hero” or “villain” of the piece — they all have their reasons for doing what they do, and the emotional logic all works. You could easily imagine a world where Goldenloin and Blackheart are just a regular couple who’ve adopted a kid, which Stevenson has fueled

In fact, this had the potential to be the gayest movie under the Disney umbrella, with reports from now-former animators that they planned to explore the Blackheart/Goldenloin relationship and animated a kissing scene. It’s especially frustrating given how Disney has made a big show out of giving the LGBTQ community breadcrumbs of representation recently (see: those two nameless ladies in Star Wars 9 that was edited out for Singapore, that one nameless guy in Avengers: Endgame, or the Lefou debacle with the 2017 Beauty and the Beast). Disney wants the laurels of being an ally without putting in any of the work, and running away screaming when they dare to do any more than dip their toe. 

I hate to bring out the tin foil hat, but yeah, that’s what really seems to be going on here. Aside from Amazon and Zoom, there’s not a business on earth that’s doing better because of the pandemic. Disney looked at the movies it has and chose the reliable, “family values” cash cows like Marvel, Star Wars, and Mickey Mouse over something new that could have added something to the world of family entertainment. And with a company as big and powerful as Disney, there’s no one at their level to tell them no, especially since the 20th Century Fox acquisition.Their influence over larger and larger chunks of the entertainment landscape means more and more of the same people choose what stories get to be told and heard.

So where do we go from here? Honestly, I don’t know. I absolutely don’t have the power to take on a monolith as massive as Disney. And I’ll be honest: I like a lot of what Disney makes. I don’t have the willpower to just boycott them when they pull stuff like this when there’s more Muppets and musicals and superheroes to watch. I’ll likely keep falling for the same queerbaiting traps (looking at you, Billy from WandaVision), and they’ll keep getting richer and more powerful.

Personally, I plan to just keep re-reading Nimona and supporting queer art where I can find it. If Disney isn’t going to make the space for us, that means we’ll have to carve it out for ourselves.