Better Nate Than Ever, a musical comedy geared at pre-teens, was just released this month on Disney+ only a few days after Florida’s “Parental Rights in Education” bill (aka the “Don’t Say Gay” bill) officially became law. In the movie, Nate (Rueby Wood), is a 13-year-old who is distraught after missing the audition for his high school musical, and embarks on a trip to New York City in the hopes of landing a part in a Broadway production.
The Daily Beast says “the gloriously queer-positive” is related to Disney’s response to the bill, even though the film was clearly produced long before the movie was made:
The film, in the most beautiful sign of progress and the greatest compliment I can give, is something I desperately wish I had when I was growing up. It’s a love letter to kids—to theater kids, and most specifically theater kids who were made to feel shy or ashamed about who they were and how they acted, and who probably, almost 100 percent of the time, grew up to be gay.
Tim Federle, who wrote and directed Better Nate Than Ever based on his Nate book series, is one of those people, even making a pitstop as a Broadway performer on his way to making TV and movies. (He’s also behind the popular—and similarly queer-accepting—High School Musical: The Musical: The Series.)
Nate (Rueby Wood) is a 13-year-old suburban kid who lives and breathes musicals; it’s barely minutes into the film that the 2004 Tony Awards battle between Avenue Q and Wicked is referenced, while he describes his mom’s relationship to his aunt as having “antagonistic Glinda vs. Elphaba in Act One energy.”
The film’s 15-year-old star, Rueby Wood, is regularly featured in gender-bending attire. He wore a black gown with a bright rock necklace, fruit-tart finger rings, and colorful, long false fingernails to the premiere of the film.
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The movie never explicitly affixes the label of “gay” to its young star, but director and writer Tim Federle is no stranger to making LGBTQ content for young people. His partnership with Disney+ began with his High School Musical spinoff series, has incorporated a lot of gay messaging in the film. His previous project with Disney saw Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett, as well as their other young co-stars, break out. During that show’s second season, Frankie Rodriguez and Joe Serafini’s Carlos and Sebastian became the first to have a significant gay romance and later a same-sex kiss.
Joshua Bassett plays the big brother in the movie. Better Nate Than Ever is a semi-autobiographical story about Federle’s own journey from Pittsburgh to New York, where he’d ultimately find his people and be on Broadway himself. Federle said:
Disney was always planning on producing more LGBTQ content aimed at kids long before Florida passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, and the exposure of their Reimagine Tomorrow initiative. Last month’s release of Better Nate than Ever is further proof that the studio has been working on this kind of content for a very long time.