Editorial: Black Sails, Historical Accuracy, and the Pirate Genre in Hollywood

To the left, the N.C. Wyeth 1911 illustration of Long John Silver from Treasure Island. To the right, Luke Arnold portraying a young John Silver in season 2 of Black Sails in 2015.

To the left, the N.C. Wyeth 1911 illustration of Long John Silver from Treasure Island. To the right, Luke Arnold portraying a young John Silver in season 2 of Black Sails in 2015.

Caution to those who have not seen all of Black Sails up to March 26, 2016 and wish not to spoil their first viewings – there are discussions that occasionally spoil small plot points from the show.  Also, this editorial and review covers the show’s first three seasons

“…Set in and around a historically accurate time and place, in Nassau in the Bahamas…”

– Jonathan E. Steinberg, Executive Producer/Co-Creator of Black Sails

“It’s brutal, it’s gritty, and it’s real…”

– Hannah New, role of Eleanor Guthrie in Black Sails

“It’s not the cheesy pirate thing, it’s not fantasy, it’s trying to actually portray how life could have been in the Golden Age of Piracy.”

– Clara Paget, role of Anne Bonny in Black Sails

On January 18, 2014, Starz released the first episode of their new show, Black Sails, on Youtube, in partnership with the entertainment network Machinima, a week before it officially aired on Starz’s premium American cable television channel.  This early preview included a ten-minute featurette about their new show and presented the previous three quotes.  Other promotional videos for the show featured similar claims about accuracy.  Two years after the premiere, the show continues to promote itself as “realistic”.  One claim they repeated involved avoiding the most common clichés in pirate films such as parrots, eye patches, and Robert Newton’s pirate accent.  So far, Black Sails avoided these obvious pirate stereotypes.  They did not perpetuate the most blatant tropes of pirates, but Black Sails still repeats many other tropes from the past century of film and television, resulting in many historical inaccuracies.  However, some aspects of this show are new to this media genre and present the smallest of steps towards historical accuracy.  It also stands as a unique production for the pirate genre in Hollywood. Continue reading

Review: Between Swamp and Sea: Bahamian Visitors in Southeast Florida before Miami by Devin Leigh

Preface and Message to my Readers: This is the first in a series of reviews I will feature on this blog.  While most reviews will be of books, this particular review is of an article from an academic journal, written by Devin Leigh, and upcoming pirate historian (of the Zamani Reader Blog).  Based on this article, I hope to see more works on pirate history by Mr. Leigh. I particularly look forward to his doctorate work on Black Caesar and the legends surrounding this slave who sailed with Edward Thatch, otherwise known as Blackbeard.  Originally, I intended to publish a new article post on the blog, but decided to wait for some significant articles to come in from the UK National Archives before publishing it.  Until those documents arrive, I will begin work on my next article.  Hopefully, the article I originally planned on posting can be completed by the end of October or early November.  Meanwhile, please enjoy my review of Mr. Leigh’s article about early Bahamians in southern Florida.

Leigh, Devin. “Between Swamp and Sea: Bahamian Visitors in Southeast Florida before Miami.” The Florida Historical Quarterly 93, no. 4 (Spring 2015), 511-537.

In American society’s greater memory, Florida’s history features many intriguing events occurring along its long and lush coasts.  The northern half of this state thrives in a long post-European contact history that dates to the sixteenth century.  Meanwhile, the southern half of Florida did not feature large population centers until well into the nineteenth century.  The typical interpretation of this region’s history seldom mentions European activities on this coast beyond isolated incidents such as pirate activity.  In his article, “Between Swamp and Sea: Bahamian Visitors in Southeast Florida before Miami,” Devin Leigh, a PhD student in the History Department at the University of California, Davis, and an adjunct history instructor at Solano Community College, exposes this view of the past is a narrative influenced by the themes of urbanization, industrialism, and large scale immigration.  This narrative usually neglects Florida’s strong association with the Bahamas.  Bahamians regularly visited the coast of southern Florida, dating back to the 1680s.  Continue reading

Recommend Books on Pirate History

One of the frequent questions asked online in general public discussions of pirate history is “What books do you recommend on pirate history?”  Below is a list of books on the subject with brief descriptions of their content and qualities.  Each of the titles reviewed here features a link to Amazon.com for convenience.

Introductory and General Topic Books

Under the Black Flag: The Romance and the Reality of Life Among the Piratesby David Cordingly

In the 1990s, David Cordingly’s work on historical pirates helped revive public interest in pirate history. His book, Under the Black Flag, presents much of the work presented in those efforts in an accessible style for mainstream readers. Cordingly presents a variety of topics on pirate history, including myths concerning pirates, Hollywood’s relationship to pirate history, general aspects of pirate life, and quick surveys of several pirates in history, including Henry Morgan and Captain Kidd. While the errors in his text and strange organization of his topics can be hindering at times, it is still a serviceable general introduction to pirate history.  Specifically, this book will greatly assist anyone who never read about pirate history and has only encountered them in the way Hollywood presents piracy.  The first chapter is particularly effective in dispelling many of the myths and Hollywood stereotypes that conflict with the historical record. For academic historians, Under the Black Flag is also a valuable piece since it is significant for those studying the historiography of pirate history. Continue reading