Black Sails: The Real Story Behind the Show’s Portrayal of Pirate Life

Created by Jonathan E. Steinberg and Robert Levine, Starz’s ‘Black Sails’ is a historical adventure show that revolves around pirates of New Providence Island in the early 18th century, particularly Captain Flint and his group, as they pull out all stops to prevent extinction at the hands of the British government. Since its premiere in 2014, the show has garnered considerable fanbase and critical acclaim for its tight storytelling, high-octane ship-on-ship action sequences, production design, brilliant performances, and for touching upon several themes such as corruption. The raw and realistic depiction of the life of pirates in the show is enough to make the fans wonder whether it is based on a true story.

Black Sails Has Roots in Reality

‘Black Sails’ is partially based on a true story. As per the creators, the show is a prequel to Robert Lewis Stevenson’s adored novel ‘Treasure Island.’ The novel touches upon the stories of some of the world’s most famous pirates — Long John Silver and Captain Flint, and their crew. It follows their lives in Nassau, as they lived and fought to maintain their withering autonomy from the growing encroachment of the British and Spanish. Talking about the show’s origin, co-creator Jonathan E. Steinberg said in an interview, “I’ve been wanting to tell this story for a long time, and we played with it for awhile before falling into the idea of doing a more realistic take on the idea of Treasure Island.”

The idea was that, while pirates have long been sensationalized in various movies and shows, ‘Black Sails’ wanted to bring out the side of their lives that people seldom knew of. Set in 1715, the series delves into the waning days of the ‘Golden Age of Piracy.’ One of the key factors both cast and crew tried to show through the visual narrative was the realism they believed was missing in all former narratives. The fact that pirates weren’t violent, brash, and bloodthirsty from the very onset of their existence and chose to become so to ensure a fear of authority is explored.

Most of the series is set in Nassau, an actual island in the Bahamas that was known for being an actual pirate hideout. According to reports, much of what is shown as a background on the island is reportedly true to history. Nassau was known for belonging to the British Empire before being raided by the Spanish during its War of Succession. It was after the War of Succession that the sailors who were initially fighting the British Empire and had become pirates in New Providence Island chose to move in it; similar to reality.

Many real-life pirates have been shown to interact with both Cook and Silver while also holding onto their character arcs to build a world blended between reality and fiction. Like any reliable adaptation, ‘Black Sails’ has also taken several imaginative liberties to further the narrative. With the book not providing much of a backdrop to the characters, most of the details had to be elaborated. The portrayal of the lifestyle of the pirates has been given a realistic touch and hasn’t merely concentrated on glorifying the grim and dark side of it.

From using actual replicas of ships and shooting out at sea, the show has opted to use practical sets as much as feasible. The dangers of naval warfare and the unforeseen perils involved with life at sea have been highlighted. However, this is not to suggest that everything shown has been accurate. There are some minute inaccuracies, especially in the attire of the pirates and the props used. Having said this, historical accuracy often paves the way for creative liberty and that has also been the case with ‘Black Sails.’ And that has ensured that viewers get to experience a new take on the life of pirates and the world of piracy in general.

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