Screen Shot 2022-04-27 at 10.44.54 PM.png

"Our Flag Means Death" incorporates numerous LBGTQ characters and characters of color. 

People of the LGBTQ community are used to perpetuate sad and unflattering representations of queer characters. There are countless examples of queer-coded characters who talk like a “stereotypical” gay person, gay characters who are overly sexual and, of course, queer characters who inevitably die at the end

When queer people start a new TV show or movie surrounding queer characters, the immediate expectation is that they’re going to be presented with characters facing discrimination, coming-out storylines or some sort of otherwise tragic storyline. Finding media that depicts light-hearted stories that have plots and storylines other than queer characters being queer is hard to find. While there are plenty of stories that contain and even focus on queer characters, like “Love Simon,”’ “Brokeback Mountain” and “Queer as Folk,” the premise of these stories is usually about these characters coming to terms with the fact that they’re “different.” There are also an abundance of stories that include queerbaiting, where the media appears to be including characters that will be a part of the LGBTQ community in some way, but who end up being cisgender and heterosexual.

“Looking at how people were kind of afraid to let themselves believe that we were [depicting a queer relationship] was a surprise to me, and it’s heartbreaking,” David Jenkins, creator and executive producer of “Our Flag Means Death,” said in an interview to The Verge.

What makes “Our Flag Means Death” such monumental queer representation is the fact that these characters are inconsequentially queer. The main character, a high-class middle-aged man-turned-pirate named Stede (Rhys Darby), appears to be coming to terms with the fact that he’s attracted to men for the first time. Rather than spending valuable minutes of the show’s running-time on a coming out scene, the show instead allows the viewers and Stede to have this realization alongside one another, and for Stede’s subsequent revelation and love confession scene to happen without any fanfare — as queer love deserves to be viewed.

This isn’t the only queer representation in the show, though, which is another failure that often comes across in media. While having one or two queer characters is better than none, this show has several — and none of them subscribe to the normal tropes one might expect. There’s a gay couple, a queer relationship including a nonbinary character named Jim (Vico Ortiz), and several characters who subvert gender norms in the way they dress and act. Despite this cast of characters that appeals to queer viewers, it’s still a show that cisgender, heterosexual viewers can relate to. Part of the show’s success comes from having an intriguing plot besides its character-driven storylines. While the characters and their stories are an integral part of the show that keeps viewers invested, the story itself is intriguing. It begins with Stede, the inexperienced captain of a band of pirates, and follows his adventure as he gains their trust and runs into the terrifying and intimidating “Blackbeard” (Taika Waititi), who teaches him how to be more pirate-like.

Much of the TV show’s success, especially in relation to its representation, can be attributed to its writer room. In creating the show, Jenkins made sure that there were the correct voices to depict these characters and experiences, especially since many of the characters are queer and/or people of color.

“I think you have to try to staff a room where people have lived-in experiences that they can bring to the story, and we have to talk about things we’re experiencing now because these stories are timeless,” Jenkins told the Verge

Users on Instagram attributed the show’s relatability to its having different body types, representations of gender and diversity overall. Users also said the show is enjoyable because of its humor, the differing personalities of the characters and Jim in particular. 

“Our Flag Means Death” also ranked above other shows being released at the same time. The show surpassed “Moon Knight,” a Marvel miniseries, couldn’t beat out the media attention for “Our Flag” on websites like Twitter and TikTok.

Another reason why this show was so successful in viewership was because of its humor. Much of the show was improvised, with comedy geniuses like Taika Waititi and Rhys Darby contributing to many of its comedic scenes. Absurd scenarios are often played completely straight-faced, which only adds to the humor. This is a recognizable aspect in the works that Waititi has contributed to, who often incorporates the “comedy of the mundane” — or the funny, uninteresting aspects of life — into the stories he creates

This show fills a much-needed gap in today’s available media by giving viewers queer representation that doesn’t overly focus on every minuscule aspect of being queer. Other forms of media would do well to follow in this show’s footsteps to gain an equally passionate audience. “Our Flag Means Death” faces a single drawback: The fact that it’s yet to be renewed for a second season.

Contact senior media arts and design major Jillian Carey at careyjc@dukes.jmu.edu. For more editorials regarding the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the opinion desk on Instagram and Twitter @breeze_opinion.