10 Queer Reasons You Should Be Watching “Our Flag Means Death”

Mild spoilers for Our Flag Means Death.

I admit that when friends started begging me to watch Our Flag Means Death, telling me how funny and smart and gay it was, I was extremely skeptical. It seemed too good to be true, the kind of show that should be queer but would end up letting me down instead.

But fuck, was I wrong.

Our Flag Means Death, created by David Jenkins for HBO Max, is extremely, explicitly queer. If you don’t know anything about the show, which is loosely based on real historical events, let me give you the elevator pitch: the charming, naive Stede Bonnet (Rhys Darby) upends his life to run away and become a gentleman pirate, in spite of having no experience whatsoever on the open seas — and in the process he meets the famous pirate captain Blackbeard (Taika Waititi), a notorious bad-boy-with-a-heart-of-gold type who’s looking to leave his life of crime and settle down into a more stable, comfortable situation as his true self, Edward Teach. Accompanied by Stede’s merry band of wildly inexperienced pirates, the pair go on strange adventures, tangle with the British navy, and eventually, fall for each other.

Packed with brilliant leads and an incredible ensemble of sensitive men, strong women, and badass non-binary folks, the show is an absolute delight, dancing between serious and silly in equal measure. There are so many queer relationships, so many exes and love triangles, so many beautiful stories playing out and interweaving in ways that feel familiar and fresh all at once. The show takes a few episodes to find its groove, but by the time Blackbeard comes into play in episode three I was completely hooked.

In Our Flag Means Death, Blackbeard says "I think this is my new favorite thing."

And given the sheer number of lesbians on TikTok screaming about Blackbeard, I wanted to give my top ten reasons (of which there are thousands of others) that you should be watching this show.

1. Vico Ortiz

Non-binary Latiné actor Vico Ortiz plays Jim, a character that initially blends in with the other eccentric pirates on the ship but quickly emerges as a brilliant fighter with a complicated past. Though when we first meet them they are dressed in a masculine disguise, trying to keep a low profile, their non-binary identity is soon disclosed to the rest of the crew, leading to some hilarious and genuine conversations. And Jim’s relationship with Olu is layered, supportive, and incredibly sweet, revealing the kind of vulnerability that I always love to see between characters.

In Our Flag Means Death, Vico Ortiz takes off their hat while standing shirtless in front of the ocean

Ortiz is very active on social media, advocating for trans justice, sharing their stories on acting and creativity, and speaking openly about their experience on the show. It’s through Ortiz that I learned about the diversity of the writer’s room, among other things, and I’ve been so appreciative of their willingness to talk about breaking into the industry, working through gender feelings, and getting top surgery.

I’m also just gonna say, with the utmost respect: they’re really, really hot.

2. Three fully-realized queer couples (Ed/Stede, Jim/Olu, Lucius/Black Pete)

While the growing relationship between Ed and Stede is the central focus of the show, this isn’t the only queer romance. Lucius, the sweet scribe who clocks Ed and Stede’s connection from the start, and Black Pete, a snarky cinnamon roll, initially seem like simple fuck buddies but soon display a lot of tenderness and care towards each other.

Ed and Stede flirt with each other on the boat deck, saying "That was hot."

And Olu, a calm and quiet soul who never misses a thing, seems to have fallen for Jim long before their full identity as a non-binary pirate (rather than the mute man they originally pretend to be) was revealed.

Olu and Jim stand face to face and stare at each other adoringly

The couples kiss and fuck and flirt and cuddle and tease on-screen, in a way that isn’t made to be a big deal or a dramatic moment — it all feels very lived-in, very natural, very normal. It’s casually and consistently queer, in a way that I almost didn’t believe the first time I watched it.

3. Leslie Jones and her 19 husbands

Leslie Jones in her pirarte suit says "But I love me a thief."

Playing the absolutely iconic character of Spanish Jackie, Leslie Jones’ delivery of every single line is flawless. A fierce and terrifying leader who rules her slice of the world with an iron fist, Spanish Jackie and her 19 husbands steal scenes without even trying, and Jones has some of the funniest lines in the show.

4. Queer love between older characters / later in life coming out

So many queer love stories are centered around young people: high schoolers, college kids, and those in their 20s. And while it’s really important to show queer kids being their full and authentic selves, it’s incredibly beautiful to see a love story between two middle-aged characters, and to see that story include tenderness, care, and deep compassion.

Stede and Blackbeard share a cup of tea

The characters of Our Flag Means Death aren’t generally fussed about labels, aren’t constantly asking one another to choose or identity their preferences. But while Stede clearly never felt like he fit into his life before piracy, his story reads to me as one of a person who is discovering so much about themselves, particularly through their friendship with and attraction to Ed. As someone who came out after getting married, who took a long time to feel like I could be openly queer, it was so refreshing to see a character taking a similar journey, and to not get hung up on ideas of being too old to chase happiness.

5. Taika Waititi & Rhys Darby’s brilliant chemistry & improv / longtime friends playing lovers

Waititi and Darby have been friends for decades, and so many of their joint interviews about the show dig into their chemistry, history, and general delight at getting to work together. Some of the most beloved scenes in Our Flag Means Death were improvised, including a fan favorite conversation about opening a restaurant. It’s such a joy to see actors getting to play around in character together, to see creative collaboration on this level, and to know how involved the different actors were in their characters and story arcs.

Stede says to Blackbeard "Yeah, that's... that's now how looting works, mate."

6. Daddy issues & toxic masculinity

So many of the characters in Our Flag Means Death have difficult family histories or complicated, abusive relationships with their parents, and we see both Ed and Stede struggle to understand the choices that their fathers made, the ways that they learned to understand masculinity, and the destructive ideas that they’ve internalized for so long. We quickly learn that Ed is tired of having to be Blackbeard, the fearsome and bloodthirsty pirate, and instead longs to relax, to enjoy fine things, to prioritize love and comfort. Stede wants to feel strong, brave, and powerful, in ways that he’s always been told he isn’t, and is grappling with finding his authentic self in a way that isn’t tangled up in shame. Both of them are constantly told by others who they are, and who they have to be. And both are working to overcome those narratives.

Ed and Stede are each on very personal and vulnerable journeys, but as their relationship blossoms, we see more and more how these early ideas of masculinity have impacted who they are, and how their connection helps them feel safe to pursue becoming the people that they now want to be.

Blackbeard says "It's pretty difficult to lat yourself bare in front of others, you know?"

These concepts aren’t limited to Ed and Stede’s stories. We also see family dynamics coming up in Jim’s past, in Mary’s journey, in Izzy Hands’ entire situation. These characters grapple with their childhoods and relationships with masculinity in a very complicated and nuanced way, and I really appreciated seeing so many different approaches to these difficult and emotional issues.

7. Mary Bonnet

In Our Flag Means Death, Mary Bonnet lies in bed and says "Fuuuuck."

Mary is fucking incredible. From being a wife that tries everything she can to save her marriage to adapting to changing circumstances with grace and aplomb, I absolutely loved seeing Mary’s journey, her growth, and her strength. More Mary in season two, please.

8. Complicated queer love triangles (Ed/Stede/Izzy, Ed/Stede/Calico Jack, Olu/Jim/Jim’s past)

Look, it’s not always a popular trope, but I love a love triangle: the messier, the better. And while there are probably other ways to interpret these relationships, throughout the season Ed has a few exes that pop up, threatening his growing connection to Stede and challenging him to either move forward or slide back. Izzy and Calico Jack both read to me as jealous ex-lovers, each pining for a version of Blackbeard that doesn’t really exist anymore — and in contrast with Stede, who is falling for Ed as he is now, it gives all of these characters a lot to work through, process, and consider.

A jealous pirate looks at his former lover from behind a curtain

And of course, Jim’s past comes crashing into their story with Olu in a big way that I won’t spoil here, but suffice to say, I absolutely consider Jim, Olu, and Jim’s past to be a messy love triangle of its own.

9. Soundtrack / cinematography / set design / costumes

This show is gorgeous, full stop. The sets are lush and layered, the costumes are meticulous and instantly iconic, and the soundtrack and music cues are perfectly timed. It feels like a visual treat, and every time I watch the show through again I notice something new.

A pirate stands facing an open window as the morning sun shines through Blackbeard's crew looks up at the skyA pirate stands in a row boat and looks out at the setting sun against the ocean A pirate party full of people in elaborate period costumesBlackbeard and Stede stand in the crow's nest of the ship and look at out at the oceanSome pirates negotiate while two other pirates hold up a flag of a black cat

10. Combat nun

I will not be elaborating further. Just watch the damn show.


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meg

Meg is a freelance photographer, writer, and tarot reader living in New York City.

Meg has written 83 articles for us.

32 Comments

  1. all present and correct, agree with these ten reasons completely, this show is such a BALM! I think, in particular, about the bows Edward put in his beard before the passive aggression party at least once a day.

  2. Ugh I love this show! It’s hilarious and tender and features such a great cast. The love story between Ed and Stede is so sweet, watching them fall in love has been so rewarding. I gotta say, I’m one of those lesbians whose favorite is Blackbeard lol. Taika is just so good when he’s all flirty and winking and swaggering everywhere.

  3. My tumblr (yes it still exists) started exploding with this show some time ago, from people from all different fandoms. I’ve since watched it twice. And I keep yelling at all my friends that they need to watch it.

    I’ve cried from laughter and cried about how sweet it was. So much tenderness. There are so many fun historical details and some actual nice acurate costumes. And fantastic costumes that are 100% modern but just so much fun. (A lot of historical costumers on YouTube have made videos about the costumes if you want more background. I loved the Nicole Rudoplh ones.)

    The comedy is sharp. There are some realy creative ways they dealt with racist tropes from pirate movies – and turned them into a jokes that are both funny and satisfying.

    I kept trying to pick my favourite character, but they are all good so they are all my favourites. I can’t pick a favourite quote either.

    Can’t wait for season 2. If they don’t make one I might set the HBO headquarters on fire.

    • I think the whole Hamilton argument is silly. Our flag means death never claims to be educational or rooted in reality in the slightest. Have you seen how many anachronisms are littered throughout the show? Anyways I’m not going to say that a black person shouldn’t feel uncomfortable with the way something is handled, but let’s not pretend that all the writers/execs (many of whom are minorities themselves) are ill-intentioned by not addressing this issue.

      • Yes, thank you, I’m aware. But why name your lead character after a real-life slave owner when you could simply… not do that? At the very least, it reads as extremely irresponsible and in poor taste.

    • I haven’t seen this show yet and I’ve never seen Hamilton (I know, I know), but I love discussions of the impact of art/pop culture on the public’s perspective on history so I hoped to read the article anyway, but I get a “subscribers only” message from that link.

  4. Yes to all of this, so much! And I want to double down on Mary Bonnet. She so easily could have been a one-note downer getting in the way of Stede’s dreams. But even with relatively brief screentime she was at least as sympathetic as Stede (if not moreso) and I wanted the world for her. She’s a goddamn delight.

    I would also like to add: the Widow Evelyn Wiggins could murder me and I would thank her for it.

    • i really love mary too, and am absolutely obsessed with widow wiggins! i was trying not to give too much away since i knew that people who hadn’t seen the show might read this piece, but both of these women are EVERYTHING.

  5. Yes to all of this. I also love the respect that pervades the entire show. Even the negative characters don’t insult aspects of life that should NEVER be used as insults.
    OFMD is the show that should be used as an example for all the shows that come after.

  6. The danger in a show being overhyped such as this one, is I’m always let down. It always happens. People rave about this and that and I go in with these lofty expectations and it falls flat. Every. Single. Time. This was good. It was funny. It wasn’t great. It was a way to pass a few hours on Saturday, those moments after brunch while you’re waiting to prep and cook the best grilled dinner of the week before setting in to watch Top Chef and some psycho drama show after for dessert. I wouldn’t rewatch this. Like I said, it was good. It fell flat under the weight of all the overhyping. But that’s OK. Not every show is for everyone. I prefer shows that are truly f’d up, violent, awful, you know the stuff of nightmares. I usually don’t go for lighter fare. The darker the better.

    • I haven’t even seen this show and even I wouldn’t suggest it for people who don’t enjoy a goofy comedy. I don’t understand why so many people fail to think about individual taste when they recommended something to “everyone.”

      Did you watch Black Sails?

    • i LOVE leslie jones so very much but i just had to start with vico since they’re openly queer 🖤 but jones is absolutely incredible and i’m obsessed with every single choice she makes, i really hope we get a season two and that she’s a prominent character!

  7. Yeah I was expecting to love it, given my interests in queer tv and only hearing incredible things from absolutely everyone, and when I did watch it (9 of 10 episodes) I just…didn’t care for it. It didnt do anything for me. (I kept watching it almost to the end because I was like “surely I will like it soon” and that didn’t happen). To me the show didn’t feel like it was queer in its soul, if that makes sense. I know I am in the vast minority lol, you don’t have to tell me. I am truly glad so many people love it. It’s just not for me, and if you don’t like it either you’re not the only one even if it might seem like it lolol.

  8. My 13yo turned me on to OFMD. We binged all of season 1 last weekend.I’m slightly concerned that the writers will continue the will-they-won’t-they-dance between Ed and Stede, instead of just letting them be a couple. Also – Kristin Schaal is my top celebrity crush and it seems unlikely she’ll be back. One more thing – do they even have an official flag?

  9. The question is, will HBO renew it??? They just went through a massive merger with Discovery and will likely lean toward “safe” content whatever that means :/. We have to stream it on repeat so that it comes back!!

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