Max Moves Away From Disney, Goes All in on Popular “Woke” Series

in Entertainment, Television

'Our Flag Means Death' Season 2 promo next to an image of Disney CEO Bob Iger

Credit: Vanity Fair/Max/Inside the Magic

There’s a strange disconnect in the world of entertainment right now. As certain audiences slam Disney and the Barbie (2023) movie for “being woke,” and Amazon Prime Video and Paramount+ have canceled streaming content featuring female-led LGBTQ+ stories, even as Prime Video itself has two of the most-streamed releases right now, both of which focus on LGBTQ+ characters.

Good Omens, the series adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s best-selling novel, and Red, White, & Royal Blue, the adaptation of Casey McQuiston’s best-selling novel, both feature a variety of queer characters, with a focus on queer or queer-adjacent main male leads. Both shot to the number one spots on Prime Video while Red, White, & Royal Blue momentarily dethroned Barbie on Letterboxd’s “most popular,” and is still in the top five, even two weeks after its release.

Barbie (Margot Robbie) dancing in the 'Barbie' movie
Credit: Warner Bros.

Disney’s Own “Woke” Agenda

However, Disney has been fighting claims of pushing its own pro-LGBTQ+ agenda for over a year as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has targeted the company for not supporting his “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Now, DeSantis and his supporters have criticized Disney for being “woke,” saying it pushes too many agendas in its recent movies, like Strange World (2022), which included a queer character. While the movie flopped in theaters and on Disney+, it led to the current slogan of “go woke, go broke,” with viewers decrying movies with pro-LGBTQ+ or similar messages.

Most recently, the upcoming live-action remake of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has faced outrage for comments made by its main actress, Rachel Zegler. The actress, most known for her upcoming role in The Hunger Games: A Ballad of Songbirds & Snakes (2023), has come under fire for stating that the live-action Snow White isn’t focused on finding love, she’s focused on finding her own power as a leader.

Snow White and Rachel Zegler
Credit: Inside the Magic

Zegler, and by proxy the Snow White remake and The Walt Disney Company itself, are being called “woke” for pushing a feminist agenda and colorblind casting, along with other recent live-action Disney remakes. Rather than listen to those calling for the live-action movies to stop (including die-hard Disney fans themselves), the company has continued to double down on their decisions, only spurring more outrage across the board.

In the midst of this contentious time in entertainment, Max (formerly HBOMax) has decided to continue to go all-in with one of its most popular original series, Our Flag Means Death. Its debut season was released to the streaming platform early last year and it quickly rose to the number one spot–where it stayed for most of 2022. Not only was it the most popular original/debut series for Max last year, but it was one of the all-time top series on the platform in 2022.

Taika Waititi as Captain Blackbeard/Ed Teach in 'Our Flag Means Death' Season 2 from Max
Credit: Vanity Fair/Max

Max’s Unprecedented Success: Our Flag Means Death

Its success quickly made household names of Taika Waiti (who plays Ed Teach/Blackbeard, but is also well-known for directing Thor: Ragnarok (2017) and Thor: Love and Thunder (2022)), Rhys Darby (who plays Stede Bonnet), and Con O’Neill (who plays Izzy Hands). Our Flag tells the story of Stede Bonnet, a former member of the gentry who leaves his family and his comfortable life behind to take up piracy. Along the way, he hires on a ragtag crew that quickly becomes a family, and meets the infamous Captain Blackbeard. Blackbeard, who prefers to be called “Ed,” is fascinated by Stede’s life of fine and fancy things, and the two strike up a friendship that soon turns into something more.

Fans of the show tuned in eagerly each week to see if the “will they, won’t they” atmosphere would pay off, or if the show would fall on queer-baiting tactics that were utilized by other popular series throughout the mid-2000s and 2010s. Although Ed and Stede do finally share their feelings (and a kiss!), the season ended with Stede running back to his family only to realize he doesn’t belong there anymore and his true family is back onboard his ship, and Ed reverting completely to the persona of the murderous Blackbeard while he tries to hide his broken heart.

Rhys Darby as Stede Bonnet in 'Our Flag Means Death' Season 2 from Max
Credit: Vanity Fair/Max

The success of the first season paid off with a Season 2 announcement last June, but further updates have been slow coming over the last year. As the show was routinely ignored by Max’s own social marketing over the last few months, fans waited with baited breath for any information about production on the upcoming season, which wrapped filming just before the strikes. When the strikes hit Hollywood in May and July, it seemed as though the entire cast and crew went radio silent about the show.

Now, “Vanity Fair” has swooped in to save the fandom with a first look at the upcoming second season, which has been confirmed for an October release. The first look includes several photos of the beloved characters, including some new faces with the addition of Minnie Driver and Ruibo Qian, among others. And with just a handful of new photos, fans have exploded on X/Twitter in excitement and anticipation.

Leslie Jones and Taika Waititi for Season 2 'Our Flag Means Death' from Max
Credit: Vanity Fair/Max

With the success of the first season, and excitement higher than ever for the release of Season 2, it continues the trend that other streaming services have experienced lately. Namely, that while there’s a loud crowd chanting that “woke means broke,” the actual audience and numbers say otherwise. Our Flag executive producer Garrett Basch told “Vanity Fair” as much, stating that the popularity of the series “says that shows in the mainstream aren’t delivering that promise or that setup, and we have. That’s really why the fans have gone wild for it.”

If the second season of Our Flag Means Death maintains the popularity and success of the first, it’s possible that Max (along with Amazon Prime Video) could take the lead and prove the “woke means broke” crowd wrong, paving the way for studios like Disney and Marvel to incorporate more LGBTQ+ stories and characters into their content.

New episodes of Our Flag Means Death will be available for streaming on Max this October.

Have you seen the show? Do you think the “go woke, go broke” crowd is right or wrong? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

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