Way back in February of 2022, I was scrolling through Instagram when I came across a post that would soon change my life. It was a trailer for a new HBO Max original show called “Our Flag Means Death,” posted by my favorite filmmaker, Taika Waititi.
As soon as I saw the trailer, I immediately became excited for this show. Pirates? Comedy? My two favorite Kiwis, Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby? What on Earth could make this show any better?
After a long month of waiting, “Our Flag Means Death” finally premiered on March 3. I fell in love with it from the moment I started watching. I expected a rambunctious comedy about pirates, and that’s what I got. What I did not expect, though, was for it to be one of the gayest shows I’ve ever seen.
“Our Flag Means Death,” which has become known among fans as “the gay pirate show,” follows the adventures of real-life pirate Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby), or the Gentleman Pirate as he is nicknamed. He was a wealthy landowner in the Caribbean who, in 1717, gave it all up to become a pirate. A fantastic premise for a period comedy.
While on his swashbuckling adventure, he meets and sails with the infamous pirate Blackbeard (Taika Waititi). Not much is known about their relationship, so the show tries to fill in the blanks. The show’s creator David Jenkins asks: What if Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard were in love?
That’s right. “Our Flag Means Death” is straight-up queer fanfiction, and a major SPOILER WARNING is now put in place.
When Stede and Blackbeard, or Ed as he is also known, meet, there’s an instant connection. They are both fascinated by each other — Ed by Stede’s unique approach to pirating and Stede by Ed’s ability to become one of the most feared pirates on the seven seas. As they spend more time together, we see that fascination evolve into something more than friendship.
As I watched, I found myself thinking, ‘this is a little gay,’ but I would quickly stomp out that thought. For years, I had been queerbaited by so many TV shows that teased queer relationships between characters, but then never delivered. For a show to actually follow through on a queer relationship felt impossible to me. As a queer person and lover of television, I had been burned too many times (Johnlock, anyone?).
It wasn’t until the last few episodes of season one when I realized that I was not being queerbaited. This was real. During the last scene of episode eight, out of ten episodes, Stede, Ed and the rest of the crew are captured by the British navy. Through all the panic, which is set to “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac — the show’s unofficial theme song — all Ed and Stede can do is gaze lovingly into each other's eyes as they are thrown on the deck with their hands tied behind their backs.
At that point, it was pretty obvious to me that they were in love. What would finally put the nail in the queerbaiting coffin was for them to kiss. And they do!
In the ninth episode, Ed and Stede share a passionate kiss on the beach, overlooking the sunset. And let me tell you, I cried so hard.
It was one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever seen. Not only was I crying because they had revealed their feelings to each other, but because “Our Flag Means Death” had provided me with some of the best queer representation I had ever seen.
It is a queer show that is not about queerness. What I mean by this is that the characters’ queerness is not the center of their story arc. Their character and relationships are.
Most shows that feature LGBTQIA+ characters make the main focus of their story based on the fact that they are queer. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this. While some of these shows fail to portray queer stories in a sensitive and accurate light, many do a great job at representing the highs and lows that come with being queer (Netflix’s “Heartstopper” is a great example of this).
“Our Flag Means Death” creates a world in which queerness is accepted. It normalizes queer relationships. If the main romance were between a man and a woman, no one would bat an eye. But because they are both men, it becomes a huge topic of discussion. It moves us forward in queer representation by telling a story about pirates who happen to be queer.
The show also takes a huge step forward in transgender and gender-nonconforming representation with the character of Jim Jímenez. Played by non-binary actor and icon Vico Ortiz, Jim’s expression of their gender is accepted and not questioned by the crew. I remember the absolute joy I felt when I first heard the crew referring to Jim with they/them pronouns. Seeing Jim becoming more comfortable in their true self helped me become more comfortable in my own gender expression.
Okay, if I rant any more about this show, you’ll know the whole story and won’t even need to watch it. Season two has just begun filming in New Zealand and will be released sometime in 2023. I am sitting on the edge of my seat, rewatching the show and theorizing on what will happen next.
I highly recommend that anyone with an HBO Max account, or a friend who has one that you can mooch off of, to watch “Our Flag Means Death”. This show has given me so much happiness and has contributed so much good to queer media and representation. “Our Flag Means Death” and Stede and Ed’s love helped me find myself, and I hope it will help you find yourself too.
Sydney Gannon is a reporter for The Beacon. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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