HBO Max’s Our Flag Means Death, starring Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi, is a lot of things. It’s a swashbuckling romance, a celebration of historical queer pirates, and, for the countless fans whose hearts the show sailed into last year, a genuine treasure.
And that brings us to this May when fans — led by Em, a fan artist, and Cait, a pharmacist and an ardent lover of fan art — casually dropped a 41-second video that celebrates one of the show’s most impactful scenes: a kiss between Darby’s Stede Bonnet, the Gentleman Pirate, and Waititi’s Ed, the legendary Blackbeard.
The scene, brought to life in digital and traditional paints, knit, embroidery, fabric, paper, and even perler beads, was a project that took two months and 256 artists to create.
Aptly named Our Frames Mean Love, the video is an expression of appreciation to series creator David Jenkins, as well as to the writers, cast, and crew who made Our Flag Means Death possible and, in so doing, made fans feel a little more seen.
It’s a labor of love, as well as a testament to the power of fandom. I recently got the chance to talk to project mods, Em and Cait, to learn more about how a gay pirate show, a love of spreadsheets, and a Shrek retelling made it all possible.
It Started With a Kiss… and Shrek
For queer audiences who’ve long had to make do with those things, the entire show feels like a fever dream: It just gets gayer and gayer. And nowhere is this more crystal clear than in Episode 9, in which Stede and Ed share a tender kiss.
It was a scene that brought many fans joy and relief in equal parts. “I think, for a lot of viewers, it’s a huge moment of release, of a build-up we were scared wouldn’t actually happen,” Cait explained. “But it did! They kissed! They are in love!”
“I’ve been in fandoms for years and have seen firsthand how much we’ve been deceived by shows that claim to be progressive or made for us,” shared Em. “But this show really proved it… not just once, [but] in multiple ways.”
And so when the anniversary of the show’s penultimate episode rolled around in March, it was only natural for fans to mark the occasion by sharing pictures and videos of the kiss.
It was around this time when Em came up with an idea that would lead them and hundreds of fans to work together for the next two months.
“What if we did a Shrek Retold kind of thing?” she remembered thinking, inspired by a 2018 fan-made reanimated film that involved over 200 Shrek fans. “Just [get] a bunch of artists together to redraw the frames of the kiss, all different art mediums and styles, and completely recreate it!”
The idea was met with overwhelming enthusiasm on Twitter, and Cait — whom Em describes as an e-mail and spreadsheet wizard — was quick to reach out and offer her help. “I really do love spreadsheets and organizing,” she shared sheepishly. “And I wanted to help see Em’s idea come to life.”
For the Love of Art and Community
When they first sat down to plan the project over coffee, Em and Cait thought they would need around 44 frames and felt excited about the idea of recruiting 50 artists. In a dizzying spread of excitement not unlike how the show itself built its community mostly through word of mouth, they ended up with 256.
Aside from the overwhelming response, both mods also expressed how special it was to see people connect with art and each other through Our Frames Mean Love. Soon, a Discord server was made for people to share their progress, provide feedback to each other, and make friends within the community.
“So many people said this inspired them to draw again after years, have said they just got into the show and were nervous about making friends, and this helped them connect with other fans, [and] have inspired people to try new mediums they never would have tried before,” Em said. “It was truly remarkable to see the impact of my silly little tweet quickly snowball into this melting pot of inspiration and community.”
The project is also deeply personal for both mods, for whom the show has had a huge impact. Em described the process of falling in love with the show and its fandom as one that “completely reinvigorated” her, while Cait said that it has been “an awakening of creativity, of discovering myself, and of finding an incredible community.”
Of course, no community is perfect. The mods, for instance, were very conscious of making sure the frames accurately depicted Ed’s skin color, given some history of whitewashing in the fandom. Both Cait and Em recognize the importance of making fan spaces welcoming to everyone, particularly for a show that’s incredibly diverse and inclusive.
Nonetheless, they are incredibly grateful to the community that has grown around Our Flag Means Death. “I’m so very, very proud of this community of kindness, love, and acceptance,” Em shared.
Our Frames Mean Love
Now that Our Frames Mean Love is out in the world, what’s next for fans?
With Season 2 of Our Flag Means Death still in production, Cait shared that they’re open to possibly doing similar projects for other scenes of the show. After all, there’s a lot to love in just Season 1 — Stede and Ed aren’t the only delightfully queer couple, and there are many more instances of queer joy within its 10 episodes.
But until then — and after months of hard work — the mods are taking the time to let it all sink in.
“So many people, involved in the project or not, have told me that this is something they’ll remember forever, which I still can’t wrap my head around yet,” Em said. “Cait and I joked throughout planning this project that the goal was to make David Jenkins cry, and knowing he saw it fills me with an indescribable amount of joy.”
Even Rhys Darby has seen and shared the video, to the delight of creators and fans.