What Is Our Flag Means Death?
Our Flag Means Death is a period show on HBO Max with one season out so far and a second one confirmed to be greenlit. It’s a comedy about incompetent pirates with bawdy humor as well as some serious moments and beautiful imagery. It also features a great soundtrack.
Our Flag Means Death follows the crew of The Revenge, led by bumbling Captain Stede Bonnet, played by Rhys Darby. Bonnet is a wealthy landowner who left behind his comfortable life to become a pirate captain to satisfy his desire for adventure.
Stede is the captain of The Revenge and, as a member of upper-crust society, has no idea how piracy works. Nevertheless, he stumbles through his adventures with lovable incompetence and great care for his crew.
Oh, where to start? First, there’s Lucius, Stede’s scribe. He’s wonderfully quippy and in a relationship with Black Pete, an ambitious pirate who claims to have worked with Blackbeard. Then there’s Jim and Oluwande. Jim is a talented fighter with a tragic past, and Olu is their best friend, probably the most sensible guy on the crew. Then there’s Nathaniel Buttons, the seasoned pirate who generally speaks nonsense with the occasional bit of helpful input. Finally, Frenchie, Roach, Wee John, and The Swede are generally used throughout the series as comedic relief, but they have their moments, too.
Ed “Blackbeard” Teach
Ed (Taika Waititi) is a delightful take on the notorious pirate Blackbeard. Tired of being a fearsome pirate, he finds the inept crew of The Revenge refreshing and inspiring. He and Stede get along swimmingly, to the chagrin of Ed’s grumpy first mate, Izzy Hands.
Izzy Hands – Blackbeard’s first mate, Izzy constantly encourages him to be more ruthless and unforgiving, as he had been in the past.
Spanish Jackie – Jackie (Leslie Jones) is a bar owner in The Republic of Pirates with a feud with Jim.
Mary Bonnet – Mary is Stede’s wife, who at first seems like a fairly generic character. She has some great moments later in the season, though.
There is some fantastic representation in this show (I don’t want to spoil it, though, so I’m going to be vague). It’s got a gay love story with obstacles and conflict as well as tooth-rottenly sweet moments. It’s especially inspiring to see a love story between two men who aren’t in their teens or early twenties. I feel that, especially in online spaces, but among young folks in general, there’s this idea that life ends at about twenty-five, and you have to have it all figured out before then. Stories like Our Flag Means Death is reassuring in that they show that people figure things out on their own schedule, at their own pace. I can tell you for sure, I have zero confidence I’ll have it all figured out at twenty-five. I doubt anyone has it all figured out, even at one hundred. It’s important to be reminded sometimes that that’s okay.
It’s also worth noting that, while never outright called nonbinary in the show, the character Jim uses they/them pronouns and is played by genderfluid nonbinary actor Vico Ortiz.
As a white guy, I can’t really speak to this, but what I’ve gathered from fans of color in this particular fandom is that the representation they see in Jim, in particular, is nuanced and well-thought-out. I have definitely seen posts and tweets from Latino nonbinary fans who very much enjoy the character.
Fan artists and fic writers are pretty prolific on both Twitter and Tumblr. Searching “Our Flag Means Death” on AO3 (a popular fanfiction website) brings up nearly 8000 works. In addition, I personally think the artists in this community are especially talented. I see so many pieces that take the beautiful imagery and symbolism of the show and run with it to create something new and wonderful. The fandom is also absolutely full of LGBTQ+ folks, as good representation (as logic would suggest) draws those it represents. As you can imagine, it’s generally pretty accepting. Like every fandom, there are a few bad eggs, but in this fandom particularly, I have watched these people consistently shut down by the other fans and then ignored when the behavior doesn’t change. It’s pretty inspiring! Like the show itself, this fandom’s a good one.
TL;DR: Our Flag Means Death Is Good!
This is a show that I highly recommend for any of my fellow queer enjoyers of pirates. Even if you don’t love pirates (I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who doesn’t like them at least a little bit, but you do you), the representation, symbolism, writing, acting, storytelling, and comedic genius of the show is worth it. I can’t wait for season 2!