Billy Eichner
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With Gay Pirates, 'Our Flag Means Death' Revolutionizes Queer TV

our flag means death

Our Flag Means Death is, simply put, the best queer show on TV right now.

Created by David Jenkins, Our Flag Means Death is a historical pirate comedy based very loosely on the real-life adventures of Stede Bonnet, a nobleman who left his life of comfort to become a self-declared “Gentleman Pirate.”

Rhys Darby stars as Stede and is joined by a pirate crew that includes Nathan Foad as the exasperated and sassy record-keeper Lucius, Samson Kayo as the trustworthy Oluwande, Vico Ortiz as the mysterious Jim, as well as Joel Fry, Matthew Maher, Kristian Nairn, Samba Shutte, Nat Faxon, and Ewen Bremner.

A few episodes in, the crew runs into the most famous pirate in the seas, Blackbeard, played by Taika Waititi. Soon, Our Flag Means Death reveals itself for what it really is: an indulgently queer show about finding yourself and fighting for the people you love.

Jenkins has really created something special with Our Flag Means Death. It’s the kind of queer show viewers have been begging for since the beginning of TV.

This crew is a bunch of misfits who left the constraints of society to live their lives how they wanted to. They wanted to be themselves without anyone telling them they shouldn’t be. And they form a chosen family to navigate the dangers, adventures, and treasures of this world. If that doesn’t describe being queer, nothing does.

It shows Black and brown people as the heroes and the winners. Black and brown queer people are so often erased from history, and so to have Blackbeard, Oluwande, and Jim portrayed with such love and attention, and so much fun, is really a revelation.

Representation is about wanting to see us in the places we really are and always have been. Our Flag Means Death shows us exactly that. We’ve always known pirates were gay and trans and queer and Black and brown. Now we finally get to celebrate that and cheer on a group of pirates who look and act like us.

The show is also wickedly funny, clever, and never stops holding your attention. Darby and Waititi have incredible chemistry, and the whole crew works together in every scene to create a family we’d love to be a part of. It truly is the best thing on TV right now.

Editor’s Note: this section contains spoilers for the entire first season of Our Flag Means Death.

When I began watching the show, I didn’t realize it was going to be a romance between the protagonist, Stede Bonnet, and Blackbeard. I wasn’t expecting it to be a “queer show.” But that’s what it is. You can’t separate the romance between Stede and Ed from the narrative. You can’t separate the protagonist’s self-actualization from his coming out. And you can’t separate the crew from their queerness.

Once Waititi joins the show, it becomes largely about Blackbeard and Stede teaching each other their versions of manhood. Blackbeard learns to enjoy fine linens and silks, Stede learns how to swordfight, Blackbeard learns how to be passive-aggressive, Stede learns about treasure hunting.

By the time they’ve spent a few episodes together, Stede and Blackbeard are inseparable, and they start dreading the day their time together will come to an end. So they decide not to end it.

stede and blackbeard

HBO Max

They decide to be co-captains, something they had never heard of. These two pirates are literally inventing gay marriage for themselves so that they can spend their lives together.

The whole show is about Stede figuring out who he is, and when he finally does, it’s beautiful. In the final episode, he’s gone back to his home and his wife, who had presumed him dead and found a new partner.

“How does it feel to be in love?” Stede asks his wife.

“It feels easy, it’s just like breathing,” she says. “He understands my idiosyncrasies, finds them charming even. We expose each other to new things, new ideas. And we laugh a lot. We just pass the time so well. I’d call those things love. I hope you find that.”

“I think I have,” Stede replies, adding, “Ed, his name is Ed.”

The pacing is also so indulgent for lovers of queer romance. There’s the will-they-won’t-they pull of the first eight episodes, followed by a kiss that viewers had been begging for. But things aren’t that easy, and by the end of the season, our lovers are separated once again, with Blackbeard thinking that Stede abandoned him. 

But we know better. We know Stede is coming for him, and now that he knows he’s in love, nothing can stop him. We can’t wait to watch season two.

Vico Ortiz’s nonbinary pirate Jim is also a game-changer for nonbinary representation. The character starts the show in disguise, mute, with a fake beard, but after a few episodes, is revealed to be on the run and shares their real identity with the crew. The others have a few questions, but then easily accept that their friend is still named Jim and uses they/them pronouns now.

jim and oluwande

HBO Max

The casual way all of Jim’s friends and family use “they” and “them” when talking about them, especially in a period piece, is wonderful, and it should remind viewers how easy it is to adopt those pronouns, no matter the setting.

Jim also has a beautiful relationship with Oluwande that blossoms into a romance by the end of the first season. In one episode, when Oluwande is learning about Jim’s past and meeting the nun who raised them, the two are talking about family, and Oluwande says he can be Jim’s family.

The two come so close to kissing at that moment, but are interrupted. Instead, we get the most sexually loaded hat touch of all time. Thankfully, in a later episode, the two get another chance and finally seal the deal.

But those two couples aren’t the only queer characters in the show. There’s also Black Pete, Lucius, Fang, Calico Jack, and Spanish Jackie who have all shown themselves to be different degrees of gay. That’s the thing— this show has every type of gay character you can imagine and it's about us in a way that's distinctly for us too.

our flag means death

HBO Max

The final two episodes of the first season of Our Flag Means Death just premiered on HBO Max, and you can watch all ten episodes now. The show hasn’t been renewed for a second season yet, but if it doesn’t, I think it’s time for a mutiny.

RELATED | Vico Ortiz Talks Playing a Nonbinary Pirate in Our Flag Means Death

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