Interview with Nimona’s ND Stevenson

NIMONA – (L to R) Ballister Boldheart (voice of Riz Ahmed) and Nimona (voice of Chloë Grace Moretz). Cr: Netflix © 2023

Netflix’s Nimona is a great movie about Bal, a knight fighting to prove his innocence, and Nimona a chaotic shape-shifting teen who is more than meets the eye. It’s a great movie about acceptance of others and self. What you may not know is that Nimona is based on a 2015 graphic novel of the same name by queer animation legend ND Stevenson. You may ND Stevenson from Lumberjanes and She-Ra and The Princesses of Power(2018) which broke records and went beyond what many thought was possible for queer animation. We sat down with ND to talk about this new movie and how it came together.

I’m just gonna jump right in. Can you go a little bit into the inspiration behind Nimona?

ND Stevenson
Nimona was a character who first started popping up when I was a teenager in my sketchbooks. She really represented everything that I wanted to be. Both as a shapeshifter and also she was really sure of herself. She really was everything that I did not feel sure of myself. I was very uncomfortable in my body, and I was moving through the world. I just wanted to be her. To be able to change at a moment’s notice to be a dragon, to breathe fire, all of these things. She really represented that. I started to build this world and this story around her based on the feelings that I was having. Of not feeling like my emotions were being understood, and feeling like I was having trouble even expressing that.

NIMONA – (L to R) Ballister Boldheart (voice of Riz Ahmed) and Nimona (voice of Chloë Grace Moretz). Cr: Netflix © 2023

This story, and the character, became a way of doing that. And for the first time, I felt like people were actually starting to understand. Starting to hear what I was saying, and see me in a way that they hadn’t before. It was a really, incredibly healing process. At a time when I did feel so lonely, and so lost in the world. And now seeing her continue to change shape and become the character in the movie. I’m starting to be struck by how healing it is even now for people to see her, love her, and see themselves in her. It feels like that lonely lost part of myself is being accepted. And it’s really, it’s really cool. It’s been very healing, and I hope it will be healing for everyone to watch this movie.

Nimona the graphic novel by ND Stevenson (2015) HarperCollins

Yeah, no, I 100% agree. What was the process like of taking your graphic novel, and turning it into a whole movie?

It was quite a journey. It’s almost exactly seven years. We’ve had a lot of ups and downs and really devastating moments along the way. A whole studio dissolved. A lot of really great people who’ve worked really hard on this movie were suddenly out of a job, and not sure if this movie would come out. So to be here now, and to know that their work is going to be seen. That all the love that they poured into this story of these characters and this world is going to be passed on and enjoyed by so many people. I’m really emotional about it.

I never could have dreamed that this story would have such a life outside of me. It is beyond what I ever dreamed of when I was first sketching this character in my sketchbook. So yeah, it has changed. It is different from the book, and yet it stays so true to the heart and soul of the book. It feels like it carries all of the scars of this journey, but it carries them proudly. It’s part of what makes it so unique. It feels like the story of making the movie was sort of the story itself. This fighting back and refusing to stay down and rising from the dead. There were so many amazing moments, and so many truly terrifying and awful moments. I honestly wouldn’t change any of them. It feels so key to making this movie what it is.

NIMONA – (L to R) Ballister Boldheart (voice of Riz Ahmed) and Nimona (voice of Chloë Grace Moretz). Cr: Netflix © 2023

I love that. With so much anti-trans legislation being pushed, what’s it like to see this movie come out during this time?

It’s (transness) something that I think is at the heart of the comic, but I didn’t know it at the time. It would be many years before I’d start to make any kind of sense of my own gender. But I don’t think any of us expected how timely it would end up being. Even just in the past year, how much the discourse has changed with this really reactionary pure panic around people who have been here all along. There’s a part in the movie where they’re sowing fear and paranoia. Like, this monster could be anywhere, it could be someone in your family, or it could be the person sitting next to you. That’s a line that I heard many times in the making of this movie. And then suddenly, it took on a new meaning. This (anti-trans legislation) is being pushed in a very calculating way. Very much the same way that the institution is like, ‘There’s the villain, everyone hate that villain, there’s the monster hate that monster’. It’s a misdirection. And it’s giving people this outlet for something to be used in this very cynical way to attack very vulnerable people.

This has always been at the heart of the movie. That people are so much more than who we see them as on the surface. And I think that it couldn’t be coming at a better time. I just really want people to take the message from this movie. Even if you don’t understand every single aspect of someone’s identity, how they move through the world, or their experience, that you don’t need that in order to love them. You don’t need that in order to accept them. And when you really get to know someone, that understanding will start to come but you don’t need it. The first thing you need to do is love somebody.

NIMONA – A Knight (Riz Ahmed) is framed for a crime he didn’t commit and the only person who can help him prove his innocence is Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a shape-shifting teen who might also be a monster he’s sworn to kill. Set in a techno-medieval world unlike anything animation has tackled before, this is a story about the labels we assign to people and the shapeshifter who refuses to be defined by anyone. Cr: Netflix © 2023

Yeah, so true. When I watched Nimona, I thought about how transphobia in the queer community is at large, how sometimes cis gays, like Bal, try to fit into corrupt systems and institutions that the trans community, like Nimona, can’t, no matter how hard they try. Can you talk a little bit about your thoughts behind that and how it’s shown in the film?

I do think about that a lot. I think that this is a very human thing. As we age, we start to-I’m 30 it hasn’t been that long. But the generations that come after you won’t have your experience. And that’s a good thing. You try to open those doors so that they can go further. But there are a lot of people who react with fear because it’s like ‘I don’t understand this’. Even talking about non-binary identity in the mainstream at all is so new. I think it can be scary to see that happening, or even feel like the conversation is moving on in a way that you’re having trouble keeping up with. It doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try. We hope to be able to pass that torch on so that it can light the path to go further than we ever thought was possible. Even when you don’t understand it is really important to make sure that that torch stays alive. That the light stays alive, and it takes us to places that we just never even dreamed.

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