Way, hay and up she rises! The lovable misfit crew of The Revenge and its star-crossed captains Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) and Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard (Taika Waititi) will be sailing the high seas again for a second season of David Jenkin’s “Our Flag Means Death,” as announced by HBO Max on June 1.
The first day of Pride month could not have been a better time to announce the show’s renewal. Known more informally as “the gay pirate show,” “Our Flag Means Death” has been lauded for its queerness, from the on screen romance between Stede Bonnet and Blackbeard, to trans cast members and characters such as Vico Ortiz, who plays the nonbinary pirate Jim Jimenez, who is themself in a relationship with fellow crewmate Oluwande Boodhari (Samson Kayo).
Premiering on HBO Max on March 3, the show had a seven week run as the most in-demand breakout series in the United States, according to Parrot Analytics, dethroned for only a week by “Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.” As of May 30, it still held the top spot.
Parrot Analytics says breakout shows “are the most in-demand series that have premiered in the past 100 days in the US.”
“Our Flag Means Death” follows the (mis)adventures of the “Gentleman Pirate” Stede Bonnet, a British dandy who up and leaves his family for a life of piracy on his ship, The Revenge. An endearingly incompetent captain, Stede grapples with the harsh realities of a pirate’s life, from murder to (attempted) mutiny from his oddball crew. Things change when they meet the notorious, and surprisingly eccentric, pirate Blackbeard who eventually falls in love with Stede.
As someone who has kept up with a number of other recently popular LGBTQ+ shows, such as “Steven Universe,” “She-Ra and the Princesses of Power'' and “The Owl House,” this series is much needed new blood. Make no mistake, I love these series and value what seems to be a dying appreciation for animation, but at the end of the day these are still shows with primarily younger audiences.
When a lot of modern LGBTQ+ media for adults feels like it's either something of a slice-of-life (“Heartstopper”) or gritty and intense (“Euphoria”), “Our Flag Means Death” is a relief for those like me who enjoy shows more fantastic crave something more mature, without overtly graphic material otherwise.
Though it is loosely based on a true story, the show is an outlandish tale about pirates with healthy doses of laughter, surprise and sadness to keep even the most ADHD-addled folks glued to the screen. While queer representation in everyday settings is valuable, “Our Flag Means Death” steps out of the mundane into a rich, queer escapism without being too heavy on the heart.
And let’s be honest, with the current state of news and politics, I think a lot of queer people both need and deserve a whimsical escape from reality right now.
The show also pulls back the curtain on some of the more historically accurate realities of piracy. Pirates have usually been portrayed as pillars of a grizzled, white, heterosexual masculinity, much in the same way cowboys have. History tells us though that neither were as straight and white as media remembers them.
Pirates, in fact, were so gay as to have their own term for same-sex civil unions: matelotage.
According to an article from “Gay Star News,” “If one matelot died, his partner inherited his property and share of the booty. In some cases, partners took punishment on each other’s behalf. In battle, they fought as a team and died together.”
And while racial dynamics in piracy are left more ambiguous, we do know that pirates were most definitely not all lily-white.
According to an article from “The Root,” “A significant number of pirates in the heyday of piracy (the 17th and 18th centuries) were of African or mixed-race descent. While the evidence tends to be sparse, we do have eyewitness testimony…Still, it’s unclear whether these men of color were crew members or captured slaves, a challenge to any historian sorting fact from legend (especially those hunting for statistics).”
The realities of racism, even in piracy, are also represented in “Our Flag Means Death,” with a heavy emphasis in scenes involving interactions with the British army and French aristocrats.
Overall, David Jenkins’ “Our Flag Means Death'' is a witty, emotional and refreshing show, especially to LGBTQ+ folks. Its representation is a nod to the past and the present, and myself and many others eagerly anticipate what is to come in season two.