Editor's note: this post contains various spoilers for HBO Max's Our Flag Means Death.
Yo ho ho, it’s a nonbinary pirate’s life for me.
Loosely based on the real-life adventures of 18th-century, would-be pirate Stede Bonnet, HBO Max's newest comedy series Our Flag Means Death features a great cast that includes Rhys Darby, Taika Waititi (as Blackbeard), Nathan Foad, Samson Kayo, Ewen Bremner, Joel Fry, and more.
Our Flag Means Death starts off quietly, but by episode four, it’s one of the best, funniest, and most heartfelt shows on TV — not to mention one of the gayest.
With Darby taking the lead as Bonnet, the characters of Our Flag Means Death make up quite the motley crew. And unlike many period pieces, they’re also diverse, with half being people of color. And it seems that half of them are also queer!
One member of the pirate squad, Jim, is also nonbinary and played by nonbinary Latine actor Vico Ortiz!
Ortiz has been an activist and advocate in the trans and queer communities for a while, and has appeared in shows like Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, Vida, and Mindy Kaling’s The Sex Lives of College Girls. Now, they’re starring as a nonbinary pirate on Our Flag Means Death, and they’re quickly becoming one of our favorite actors.
For the first few episodes, Jim is in disguise on the ship as a mute with a large beard. They’re on the run with their friend Oluwande (played by Samson Kayo) after killing one of the famous pirate Spanish Jackie’s husbands.
Once Jim is revealed to be wearing a false nose and beard, the other pirates want to know more about them. In episode 4, the rest of the crew asks Jim about their name, their gender, and even if they’re a mermaid.
“Look everyone, I’m gonna keep this very simple,” they say. “You all know me as Jim, si? So just keep calling me Jim, nothing’s changed. Except I don’t have the beard, my nose is different, and I can speak now. Anyone have a problem with that?”
“It makes sense, I always liked Jim,” one pirate says.
“Yeah, good guy,” another chimes in.
These pirates are mostly illiterate and live in the 1700s, so they don’t exactly know the words “nonbinary” or “transgender,” but they understand Jim, and they start to use they/them pronouns for them, something that Ortiz was delighted by.
“I was like, ‘We’ll use Jim and probably either use she/her or he/him,’” Ortiz says they thought about the character. “But they were like, ‘No, we’re going to use they/them,’ and I said, ‘Really? Okay that’s great, this is incredible. Wow, fantastic, yes, let's do it!’”
They say that the minute they read the character description looking for a nonbinary pirate they thought about connecting to trans people in history. “This is amazing because oftentimes throughout history, our stories are overlooked or the way that they're rejected or told it's in a way that's very binary or not honoring or acknowledging the person's queerness,” they note. “So having this character exist and so beautifully be accepted by the rest of the crew was so, so huge.”
They also love that the show is finally showing pirates for what they were in real life: huge flaming gays.
“They don't talk about it, but when you start really digging, they were getting gay married, they were having polyamorous relationships,” they say. “They were just living their best life outside of all the politics in the world. Yes, there was violence there. Yes, there were some barbaric moments, but these are people were kicked out from where they were and they were trying to make a name for themselves and have a second go at who they really are and be accepted for those things.”
Jim’s queerness doesn’t just exist in their gender. They’re also at the beginning of what could be a classic friends-to-lover storyline with their crewmate Oluwande, who has known Jim the longest and knows them best.
For Ortiz, it’s simple. Oluwande doesn’t see Jim as a man or a woman, just as Jim. “You're falling in love with a human being,” they say. “If you're connecting with them, that's the most important. It's not like, ‘Oh, well, the second the beard is off, I'm immediately more into Jim.’ Olu always has this care and this sense of connection with Jim, no matter how Jim presents or is, because Jim is Jim, no matter what”
Ortiz also loves the way the show as a whole looks at masculinity. Not only are pirates expected to be rugged and serious “manly men,” but the pirate captain in this show is a foppish gentleman. Our Flag Means Death asks what it means to be a pirate, a gentleman, and a man. And Jim helps to answer those questions.
This interrogation of masculinity and manhood extended behind the camera as well, where most of the cast is cis men. “We opened up so many beautiful conversations about what is masculinity? What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? What does it mean to be a feminine? And reclaim these things,” Ortiz says.
We can expect even more answers to those questions as the series goes on. Our Flag Means Death only has a ten-episode first season, but hopefully, it will be renewed, and we can continue to explore manhood, queerness, and the high seas with our favorite pirates.
The first six episodes of Our Flag Means Death are currently streaming on HBO Max. The next two episodes premiere on the streamer Thursday, March 17, and the final two episodes will air on March 24.
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