How “Our Flag Means Death” Founded a Cultural Reset

Currently streaming on HBO, a charming romantic comedy easily wins over the hearts of a sprawling queer community.

Via+HBO

Via HBO

Adriana Jolie, Staff Writer

Like most people, Our Flag Means Death was first introduced to me via TikTok. The main selling point—screamed by the frantic TikTokers in their tiny, mobile worlds—was the substantial lack of queerbaiting.

“Queerbaiting” refers to a common practice in the film industry that alienates and harms LGBTQ+ viewership: oftentimes falsely hinting at a romance between two characters, and never delivering. Generally, these shows will “bait” queer viewership and perpetuate stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community. 

But for Our Flag Means Death, this is the exact opposite. Along with two (canon) gay couples, it also includes a non-binary character. It sets an example of how to deliver a show that has outstanding representation—without it being the main point of the story.

The main point of the story, after all, is pirates. More specifically, the main character Stede Bonnet, an average man who (although absurdly rich) decides to become a pirate to escape the monotony of his land-dwelling life. Played by Rhys Darby, he gives an earnest performance as Bonnet, who is honest, if a bit cowardly. 

His natural chemistry with Blackbeard (played by Taika Waititi) creates a romance like no other—founded on careful hope—as a way to glimpse into each others’ worlds. Blackbeard, although the most feared pirate at the time, is bored and melancholy, going through what seems to be a midlife crisis. He melts hearts with his fragile love for the finer things in life, including one Stede Bonnet. Provoking character development is oftentimes countered with comical situations and endearing side characters, who develop a close bond with each other and push the narrative forward. 

Characters include Bonnet’s scribe Lucius, who, along with prompting hilariously dry humor, has a sweet relationship with crewmember Black Pete as an unproblematic power couple. Along with relationships is a (probably) cannibalistic cook named Roach, and Buttons, who has a close friendship with a seagull named Karl. On their ship, The Revenge, Stede Bonnet and his unconventional family try desperately to become the pirates that they so long to be. 

Adventuring with his rag-tag team of pirates who are functional kindergarteners, Bonnet also discovers himself. Without the illusions that he once had about piracy, he lets Blackbeard show him the way. Although the main romance is threatened by a seething first mate and Bonnet’s own anxieties, their relationship is pure and celebrated. 

Funny, poignant and oftentimes delicately beautiful, Darby and Waititi have become the on-screen couple that everyone had been waiting for.