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The Student News Site of Fitchburg State University

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The Student News Site of Fitchburg State University

The Point

The Pirate History Behind ‘Our Flag Means Death’ Season 2’s Girlbosses

Photograph by Nicola Dove/Max
Our Flag Means Death Image by Nicola Dove

On October 26, 2023, the last episode of HBO’s period rom-com ‘Our Flag Means Death’ season two aired. The plot of the show’s sophomore season experienced many highs and many lows; there was queer romance, there was death, and there was drag. There were also some awesome historical figures present in the history of piracy introduced as brand-new characters with amazing stories to tell.

‘Our Flag Means Death’ pulls from this history. It is set in 1717, smack dab in the center of what is considered the Golden Age of Piracy. Its titular characters are Blackbeard, portrayed by Taika Waititi, and Stede Bonnet, portrayed by Rhys Darby. Blackbeard and Stede Bonnet were two very real pirates who did cross paths during their careers as pirates. What’s not all that historically accurate is that they were gay lovers, but nobody said that this was the History Channel.

One of the new characters introduced was Zheng Yi Sao, portrayed by Ruibo Qian. Zheng Yi Sao, also known as Ching Shih, was a Chinese pirate leader in the South China Sea from 1801 to 1810. In the show, she commands a crew entirely made up of women and is an all-around pirate queen kicking pirate ass.

The show does take some creative liberties when portraying her to include her in the newest season. For example, she hadn’t even been born during the Golden Age of Piracy, which is when the show is set. She also, unfortunately, didn’t command a crew of all women. These inaccuracies aren’t a big deal at the end of the day, because the showrunners stay true to her spirit and don’t water her down to be some sex symbol as other media has.

What’s true about Zheng Yi Sao is that she is widely regarded as the most successful pirate of all time. Following her husband’s death, Zheng Yi Sao inherited his informal command over the Guangdong Pirate Confederation. At the time of her surrender to Qing authorities in 1810, she personally commanded 24 ships and over 1,400 pirates. Just as a comparison, Blackbeard commanded four ships and 300 pirates. Truly nobody was doing it like her.
Two other new characters introduced in ‘Our Flag Means Death’ season two are notorious female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, portrayed by Minnie Driver and Rachel House respectively. In the new season, they are shown to be in a romantic relationship with each other and running an antique store.

Little is known about Bonny and Read as historical figures. Anne Bonny was an Irish pirate operating in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy, and Mary Read was an English pirate operating in around the same area. They are both among the few women known to have been convicted of piracy at the height of the Golden Age of Piracy.

They eventually both ended up on the crew of John Rackham, who was also known as Calico Jack. Although details about their actual personal lives, there is speculation that they developed a romantic relationship upon encountering each other at sea.

‘Our Flag Means Death’s’ sophomore season, just like the first one, was a fantastic blend of pirate history and queer romance. New characters like Zheng Yi Sao, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read were real female pirates, and it is truly exciting to imagine what the showrunners might do with them in future seasons. The show may have taken some liberties with the facts, but it kept the spirit of these historical figures alive. And, again, this is HBO- not the History Channel.

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About the Contributor
Mitchell Walsh, Staff Writer, Layout Editor
Mitchell Walsh is a junior at Fitchburg State University and this is his fourth semester on the staff of The Point. He is looking forward to continuing to act as Layout Editor, and now serving on the City News Team. When he’s not writing Mitchell enjoys drawing, playing viola, and playing video games.

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