We’re Loving ‘Our Flag Means Death’ and Its Embrace of Queer Pirate History
If you’re online in any capacity, you’ve definitely heard of Our Flag Means Death, the period-piece romantic comedy series on HBO Max that’s full of queer pirates, starring Rhys Darby as Stede Bonnet and Taika Waititi as Blackbeard, which just wrapped up its first season.
The show loosely follows the true story of Stede Bonnet, an aristocrat who decides to abandon his entire life — including a wife and children — to become a pirate. Season 1 contains 10 half-hour episodes, which makes it a surprisingly quick binge.
Our Flag Means Death gets a lot of things right. There’s a lot of commentary on toxic masculinity throughout the first season. Throughout Stede’s life, he’s suffered at the hands of an abusive father who tried to instill values of violence as strength, and Stede was also bullied relentlessly by his peers because he’s “too soft,” preferring to spend his time picking flowers.
At the end of the second episode, Stede says, “Why can’t one be a gentleman and a pirate? A gentleman pirate. Ooh, that rings.” He’s right, and it sets up his arc wonderfully through the rest of the season.
There’s also an incredible amount of queer representation (queer pirates!) in the show.
We have the gay couple of Stede and Blackbeard, who have won over the internet judging by the amount of fan art we’ve seen already. It starts with Blackbeard, who introduces himself to Stede as Ed, nursing Stede back to health. The two of them grow closer by teaching each other about high society and piracy, respectively, and the two men ultimately fall in love in a very true and honest way.
There’s also Jim, played by nonbinary actor Vico Ortiz, the quiet crew member who wears a prosthetic nose and fake beard to hide their perceived gender. Even when it’s found out they were born female, the crew respects their wishes and continues to call them Jim. Jim also has a romantic relationship with crew member Oluwande.
Two other crew members, Lucius & Black Pete, also have a gay relationship throughout the season.
Pirates as a whole were super, ridiculously queer (read more about that here), and Our Flag Means Death embraces this. As a comedy, it never makes the queerness of these queer pirates the punchline. Even in situations where there isn’t the appropriate language to adequately communicate a character’s feelings, it’s still understood by the rest of the crew, like with Jim.
Hopefully HBO Max will give us second season soon (the odds are looking likely), because we desperately need more queer pirates shenanigans, especially after that finale cliffhanger.