One Question Quiz
Image by Tina Tiller
Image by Tina Tiller

Pop CultureJanuary 23, 2024

Gone too soon: A tribute to the queer joy of Our Flag Means Death

Image by Tina Tiller
Image by Tina Tiller

For its queer audience, Our Flag Means Death – which was cancelled this month after two seasons – was so much more than just a show about pirates. 

Does anyone else yell “KISS!” at the TV whenever two people of the same gender lean in close? No? Just me? 

It mostly never happens. But when it does, oh boy is it great, especially when it’s during Our Flag Means Death, on a beach with Ed (Taika Waititi) and Stede (Rhys Darby) and a romantic melody plays in the background.

Yes, the show is about pirates. There are fights and explosions and mutinies and walking of planks, but at its core, Our Flag Means Death is a romance between two men.

The Revenge, captained by the Gentleman Pirate Stede Bonnet, was a safe space (a safe space-ship, if you will) for the global LGBTQ+ community. But despite its devoted fanbase, on January 9, Max cancelled the show.

Since then, the fans have rallied. There is a 60,000-strong petition for the series to receive a third season. These are volunteers who found “a profound sense of family” in the community of the show. The website states: “…our goal extends beyond concluding story arcs and providing a final bow to the cast and crew. It’s also about honouring the loyal fans and subscribers by ensuring they receive a satisfying conclusion to a series that has profoundly impacted us all.”

Queer folk have spent years creating their “found families”, sometimes after their biological family has proven to be unsupportive. Our Flag gives us a healthy, loyal and loving found family. The importance of the show lies in its representation. It’s about seeing our stories being told for the masses. It’s about seeing ourselves in queer pirates living their best lives. This is what offers us a sense of security.

Our Flag Means Death showed us realistic, vulnerable and unique characters. There was no queerbaiting, no hint at a queer relationship without the actual follow-through, like many TV series have done in the past. The only barriers that Stede and Ed must overcome are between themselves. But it’s not just about them. It’s Jim, Archie, Lucius and Black Pete. It is Wee John Feeney in full drag for Calypso’s birthday and Anne Bonny lovingly burning down a house for Mary Read.

And the best part? Most of these actors were playing their own identities and sharing their own truths.

Local star David Fane, who plays Fang, previously told The Spinoff, “You can’t help but be who you are and I think that’s the point of the show as well. We’re not trying to pretend we’re any other race but our own, or represent any other communities that aren’t our own. People are what they are and they bring what they bring, it’s celebrated.” 

David Fane (right) in Our Flag Means Death (Image: Supplied)

Yes, the show has multiple queer relationships, but there is also just a general air of acceptance. Jim, played by the enigmatic Vico Ortiz, is a fan favourite and their presence is a nod to genderqueers throughout history. They came out as non-binary so naturally that it makes me wonder, why aren’t characters like this everywhere?

One Instagram comment about the show cancellation reads, “Seeing Jim on screen helped me fully come to terms with being non-binary and made my tiny non-binary heart so happy.”

At no point during the two seasons of Our Flag does a character give a speech about inclusivity. There’s no convincing other characters that queerness is deserving. Queer trauma or education isn’t a focus. In an interview with Metro Weekly, show creator David Jenkins said, “Because a lot of times, if there’s a queer romance in a genre thing, the characters often end up being punished for it and it ends up tragic or unrequited. I think it’s important to give these characters a happy ending.”

The show was sweet. There’s no other word for it. Stede wrote love letters like ones we wrote in high school. Oluwande was the break in Zheng’s day. Lucius and Black Pete worked on themselves to better their relationship and in marriage, swore “to keep each other’s ship afloat”.

Local drag king Hugo Grrrl says, “It’s so rare to see any trans masculine characters on TV, especially ones in positive, hilarious, well-done stories. OFMD felt really special. It was heartfelt and well executed and just gorgeous.”

Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi in Our Flag Means Death (Image: HBO, additional design Archi Banal)

LGBTQ+ TV programmes are few and far between, and many of the current shows (such as Heartstopper or The L Word: Generation Q) are still in their early seasons, or, like Uncoupled, First Kill and Glamorous, get cancelled before they’ve had time to truly explore their stories. 

But this isn’t the first queer show to be cancelled where the fandom has campaigned for the show to continue. Anne with an E has a petition for renewal with 1.7 million signatures. Fate: the Winx Saga’s petition has 150,000 signatures, and Sens8 has 100,000. In an interview with Bloomberg, Ted Sarandos, CEO of Netflix, has stated that most cancelled shows have a small audience with a large budget, and while Max is owned by Warner Bros Discovery, I have to wonder whether this is the reality of Our Flag Means Death.

The show doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. In fact, leaving Stede and Ed with their inn seems somewhat right. But season two was never written as the final season. We want more of the story. More of the characters and the accepting world we’ve come to adore.

Whatever happens next, Our Flag Means Death still offers fans a diverse and accepting community. I can say with absolute certainty that, even if it is never renewed, some cosplayer will eventually create the ending we all deserve.

Keep going!