“Swarm,” Prime Video’s horror satire about a murderous mega-fan of a global pop star, isn’t about Beyoncé or the BeyHive. Really. It is not. The Grammy-winning singer wasn’t mentioned once during Friday night’s SXSW premiere — neither in co-creator Janine Nabers’ introduction nor in the post-screening Q&A with Nabers, Dominique Fishback and Chloë Bailey, and certainly not Queen Bey . The first two episodes were name-dropped and screened to gasps and laughs at the Paramount Theater in Austin, TX.
But they could be… inspirations.
“In April of 2016, when a certain visual album dropped (…), there’s a rumor that a girl named Marissa Jackson committed suicide because she found out that a certain pop star was being cheated on by her husband,” Nabers said on Vulture’s Q&A. Sam Sanders. “I was on a text thread with some friends from Houston and for two days we thought it was a real event – until it was later debunked on Black Twitter.”
“So when Donald (Glover) pitched this idea of a black woman obsessed with a pop star, I said, ‘I know what a pilot is,’ and I ran with it.”
“Swarm” starts in April 2016 and centers on Dre (Fishback), a super-fan of a famous singer who maxes out her new credit card on concert tickets. Meanwhile, he’s struggling to pay the rent, and his best friend Marissa (Chloë Bailey), who he also bought a ticket for, is getting fed up with her boyfriend’s childish decision-making. Events spiral from there, sending Dre on an unexpected road trip filled with terrifying encounters.
When asked if an “unnameable pop star” has watched “Swarm” yet, Nabers simply said, “Of course.” But when pressed to say more, he refused.
“Each episode is about real news, real events or Internet rumors that happened, and we put our amazing women at the center of those stories,” Nabers said.
Before the screening, Nabers took the stage and explained that he and Glover, who worked together on Atlanta, began writing Swarm in the early months of the pandemic. “Our writers’ room was pitch black,” he said. “All of our directors are black, (and) most of our producers are black.”
“We know the show has momentum,” he said. “We know this will spark a lot of conversation. So if you really want to tweet about it, tweet at Donald Glover.”
Glover, who directed the premiere along with co-creating and executive producing the series, was not in attendance, but recorded a video message that was played before the episodes. With the Cameo logo in the lower right corner, Glover pretended to read from a script sent to him by “Amazon.”
“‘Swarm’ is a work of love and passion, deliberately set on film,” said Glover. “Enjoy the show and tweet and facebook. I’m very proud of it and I hope you have as much fun watching it as we did making it.”
Nabers said Fishback “gives a performance for the ages” before noting that her character is a unique personality to lead a TV show.
“I think we as Americans are so conditioned to see white men as angry,” Nabers said. “We give them space for violence in movies and on TV.”
He then hinted that Dahmer was recently “one of the biggest shows that Netflix has ever made,” and recalled that when Glover came up with the initial idea for “Swarm,” he mentioned a tweet asking, “Why do all black people play woman on tv should it be a therapist or a funny best friend or someone looking for love or a teacher? We can be crazy. We can also be serial killers. And the rest are “swarms”.
Fishback talked about his approach to the character, noting that he usually writes diaries to get himself in the right space. “But with Dre, on paper, there’s really no psychological thread to him,” he said. “I didn’t want to force anything. One of the things that Janine and Donald said a lot was that he was emotionally stunted.”
Despite the shocking on-screen violence and twisted lead, Chloë Bailey — who rose to fame as a singer-songwriter — had a simple answer to whether “Swarm” changed her perception of fans today.
“No,” he said.
Now we wonder if Beyoncé feels the same way — not that she does.
“Swarm” premiered on Friday, March 10 at the 2023 SXSW Festival. Prime Video will premiere the series on Friday, March 17.
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