‘Our Flag Means Death’ Might Just Be The Best Queer Show Of The Year
'Our Flag Means Death' reminds us that the world of pirates was queer as hell.
HBO’s Our Flag Means Death is a historical pirate rom-com that’s turning heads for featuring Taika Waititi in an all-leather get-up, but it’s also got some pretty great, and historically accurate, queer representation.
The series is a comedic retelling of the historic alliance between gentleman pirate Stede Bonnet and the notorious Blackbeard, AKA Edward Teach. When Stede abandons his upper-class life for a pirate’s life aboard the Revenge, he quickly learns pirating is not as easy as it looks. Enter Blackbeard, who instead of killing Stede and taking his crew, formed a temporary alliance that had them plundering ships together in real life between 1717-1718.
Played by What We Do In The Shadows alum Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi respectively, Ed and Stede’s blossoming chemistry places queerness at the show’s core. Many of Stede’s crew are canonically gay as well, including his first mate Lucius and Blackbeard fanboy Black Pete. But queer representation on the Revenge includes gender diversity as well.
Rounding out the Revenge’s crew is Jim, brought to life by non-binary actor Vico Ortiz. On the run and wanted for murder by the bloodthirsty Spanish Jackie (Leslie Jones), Jim has disguised themselves as a man to join Stede’s crew and has been living as a man for over a year.
When Jim’s disguise is discovered by Lucius and eventually learned by the rest of the crew, Our Flag Means Death allows Jim the space to question their gender. The series includes scenes of other crew directly interrogating Jim on their gender presentation, asking if it means they’re a woman now to which they initially reply that they aren’t sure.
This culminates in everyone in the series referring to Jim with they/them pronouns. Stede, Spanish Jackie, Blackbeard- everyone refers to Jim with the correct name and pronouns regardless of whether they’re wearing their beard or not. While pirates at the time may not have used the same modern vocabulary used in the series, the representation of gender queerness in piracy is truthful.
For a long time, historians have known that piracy’s golden age was far queerer than most mainstream media suggests. Piracy was a haven for the socially and politically persecuted, making it an attractive prospect for those deemed social pariahs.
Inspiration for Jim’s character comes from figures like Mary Read and Anne Bonny, pirates who presented as both men and women throughout their careers. “Pirates were able to say a big screw you to literally all the politics and societal standards and expectations and say, ‘Bye, we’re gonna do our own thing’,” Vico Ortiz told Inverse.
Our Flag Means Death isn’t the first show about pirates to get honest about how queer they could be. The critically acclaimed drama Black Sails was a prequel to the classic swashbuckling world of Treasure Island and featured several prominent queer narratives, including Anne Bonny’s.
As a series, Our Flag Means Death approaches queerness with a wholesomely comedic brush. There are a lot of laughs to be had onboard the Revenge, but the jokes aren’t on Blackbeard and Stede’s close alliance, Lucius’ and Black Pete’s awkward morning-after flirts, or Jim’s genderfluidity. Rather, the joke is on history for daring to ignore that the golden age of piracy was gay as hell.
Our Flag Means Death is streaming on Binge and Foxtel.