Why High School Musical’s Same-Gender Kiss Taught Its Creator To Not ‘Censor’ Better Nate Than Ever’s LGBTQ+ Storyline

At a time when the conversation about the LGBTQ+ community and The Walt Disney Company is an especially hot topic, a new movie has hit Disney+ called Better Nate Than Ever. The musical comedy about a middle schooler who sneaks away from Pittsburgh to Broadway to audition for the big time brings some fun musical theatre energy to the platform, along with inviting a sweet storyline about a queer kid coming into his identity. As Better Nate Than Ever breaks some ground for the LGBTQ+ community in family entertainment, CinemaBlend spoke to writer/director Tim Federle about its pride-filled messages. 

Tim Federle’s collaboration with Disney+ began with his spinoff series for High School Musical, which brought about the breakout of Olivia Rodrigo and Joshua Bassett alongside their other talented young costars. During the second season of the show, it became the first to have a prominent gay romance and then same-sex kiss between Frankie Rodriguez and Joe Serafini’s Carlos and Sebastian. Looking back, Federle told us how that LGBTQ+ moment was received: 

What I really took away from the experience from Seb and Carlos on High School Musical [the series] is that if you cast something authentically with actors who really identify in ways that are thematically resonant with the characters they play, that will reach an audience more than anything else. And rather than any push back whatsoever either from Disney or from the audience over that very innocent same-gender kiss in Season 2, instead what I got was hundreds of DMs from around the world from people saying ‘It means so much to see myself on screen.’

It sounds like no amount of backlash compared to all the love Tim Federle and the cast of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series received for including a queer storyline. In turn, Federle has moved forward with another great character important to the community. 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 continued with these words: 

Joshua Bassett talks pretty openly about the types of messages he gets since he sort of came out as part of the LGBTQ+ community with people saying to him, ‘if you have the bravery to live honestly, maybe I can too.’ And all of that inspired me to write a version of the Nate movie that wasn’t watered down and wasn’t censored, but also I think a very age-appropriate adventure story about a middle schooler who wants to see the big wide world.

When stories like the High School Musical series and Better Nate Than Ever get authentic about the different experiences one can have growing up, it can create a path for more empathy from others and allow for others who relate to feel more comfortable in their skin. Federle also shared that he had a “lot of freedom” to make the movie he wanted to after having the experience as a middle schooler like Nate who “didn’t have many examples” of himself on screen. 

Better Nate Than Ever introduces newcomer Rueby Wood as Nate and Aria Brooks as his best friend Libby, with Joshua Bassett playing his older brother and Lisa Kudrow as his New Yorker aunt. You can check out CinemaBlend’s review of the movie and stream it now with a Disney+ subscription

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.