I felt profoundly emotional after finishing Our Flag Means Death (OFMD), and for quite some time after. This was unusual, even for me, and then it finally hit me why this show had hit me so hard: it has the most exquisite representation of queerness and queer love I have ever seen in a TV series (or any form of media).
A historically ambiguous rendition of aristocrat Stede Bonnet’s chaotic venture into piracy, OFMD is primarily a love story telling the messy, budding romance between Bonnet and notorious pirate Blackbeard.
What makes the show unique is its authenticity in depicting real queerness. There are none of the classic queer tropes we are used to (and had to tolerate, because for a long time we just had to take what we could get when it came to LGBTQ+ media).
There are no ‘critical’ coming out moments that threaten to ‘make or break’ a character’s relationships and friendships, for example. In fact, no one really has a coming out moment… because no one needs to.
There’s no pivotal moment when everything lines up and the character realises they are not straight. People have crushes and begin relationships because they like each other and it’s that straightforward.
No characters faced adversity or violence purely because of their sexuality (there is violence otherwise in the show because, well, pirates). There’s an unspoken acceptance among Bonnet’s crew, a ragtag collection of semi-competent pirates, that extends to all onboard The Revenge.
Plus, there is no queerbaiting at all. It is delightful to watch the tentative hints of queer love be acknowledged by the characters and acted upon, instead of shying away or doing ‘just enough’ to keep LGBTQ+ viewers watching.
OFMD does not skirt around or hint at queer love, they fully realise it, accept it and present it proudly. This is not just the case for sexuality either – there is Jim, a non-binary character who uses gender neutral pronouns. As soon as the crew realise, they all refer to Jim correctly without question or hesitation.
Even toxic masculinity has no place in 18th century piracy; men cry without being used as a punchline. They have raw, intense emotions and they console each other (or rather they ‘talk it through, as a crew’, as Bonnet so rhythmically insists). The racially diverse crew treat each other with dignity (by pirate standards) and embrace their flaws.
OFMD manages to tell this story so well because of its LGBTQ+ and allied writers and directing team. The romances feel genuine, and every detail feels like it was written with care and respect. Not only this, but the actors portraying their queer, unruly characters fully embrace the responsibility placed on them to tell this funny, wholesome, lovely story.
The way Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby (portraying Blackbeard and Bonnet) use their improvisational comedy backgrounds and long-time friendship to intimately tell their characters’ blossoming relationship is captivating to watch. Their dialogue of beautifully improvised trust falls, and the subtlety of their adoring glances are created from the pure chemistry and confidence they have in each other. They are two people who love each other playing two characters who are in love with each other without uncertainty.
It’s unsurprising then that the LGBTQ+ community welcomed OFMD with open arms. Queer viewers converged en-masse to social media to discuss theories and share fan-art. What was perhaps more surprising was the support and encouragement from the OFMD staff.
Actors have retweeted art and cosplay depictions of their characters, and often reply to tweets from eager fans. In fact, David Jenkins, the creator of OFMD, has credited the strength and presence of the fandom as crucial in securing the renewal for a second season of OFMD.
However, the power of the fandom exists because of the story OFMD so lovingly tells. We could see ourselves in those interactions, situations, and relationships.
We are not only seen, we are also understood and accepted and shown that we deserve to be represented fully as queer people in queer love.
Darci is a volunteer with Just Like Us, the LGBT+ young people’s charity – sign up now to get involved.