Content warning: This story mentions suicide.
This is a first-watch review of the new horror, thriller and (questionably) comedy, high-key Beyoncé-inspired series “Swarm,” on Amazon Prime. So… spoiler alert!
The new baffling Amazon Prime series “Swarm,” by Donald Glover and writer Janine Nabers, is filled with some notable creatives. From the dynamic Dominique Fishback (“Judas and the Black Messiah,” “Project Power”) playing Dre, the main character, to Chloe Bailey playing her sister Marissa, Damon Idris as Marissa’s boyfriend, to Michael Jackson’s daughter Paris Jackson playing a stripper named Halsey and Billie Eillish’s acting debut as a cult leader, the talent just did not waver. Oh yeah, Malia Ann — also known as Malia Obama — wrote one of the wildest episodes “Girl Bye!” Hey Malia!
However, the series was swarmed with criticism on how the stan communities, Black women fandom and Black women as a whole are humanized, igniting some reflection as well from those groups. It sparked conversations on violent fandom and how Black women in fandom should be represented.
The dark and eerie series follows awkward main character Dre (Dominique Fishback) through her murders and obsessions, portraying the horrors of parasocial relationships (a one-sided relationship where one party does not know of the other’s existence).
Dre has two main obsessions in her life: the faux mega pop idol Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown), high-key inspired by Beyoncé, and her foster sister Marissa (Chloe Bailey) who died by suicide in episode one. After Marissa’s death, she ultimately spiraled, grieving, submerging herself in Ni’Jah’s content and challenging anyone who begs to differ with Ni’Jah’s talent.
Dre would go to the ends of the Earth for a Ni’Jah experience to say the VERY least. She spent rent money and opened up a credit card to get some tickets to Ni’Jah’s tour but was never able to give Marissa the tickets. Dre goes on a chilling killing spree for episodes, murdering Marissa’s boyfriend and anyone who spoke ill about Ni’Jah.
It is clear throughout the series that Ni’Jah is based on the real-life “Queen Bey” Beyoncé, but why? From the elevator scene reference to a fan biting Beyonce to her being married to another music mogul and a sister with an eclectic fan base, I can’t fail to mention the “Swarm” title’s similarities to the Beyhive, the creators just made sure the audience comprehended the references.
But, again, why is the Beyoncé fan base the inspiration behind a deranged serial killer in this gruesome series?
Eventually, Dre came across Eva (Billie Eilish) who was an NXIVM cult-inspired leader. Eva forces Dre to confront her traumas before, spoiler alert… killing her as well. Dominique exposes Dre’s humanity during her scene with Eilish, making it one of my favorite scenes (the acting gave me chills). Dre was a traumatized individual.
This however does not take away from the character’s serial killer ways and horrific parasocial obsession with Ni’Jah, nor does it glorify her gruesome violence. But it is interesting to see Dominique explore Dre’s humanity and give her character some complexity; even after Glover’s direction to think of her Black female character “more like an animal and less like a person.”
Criticism following the release raised conversations on the depiction and humanizing of Black women fandom in the media, and rightfully so. Although the series is inspired by the Beyhive, it should not be designated or interpreted as a representation of all Black women in fandom.
It makes me think — if every character is supposed to be a representation, it limits fictional series like “Swarm” and characters like Dre.
The series, however, creates a synonym between the Beyhive and stan communities, coined after Eminem’s song “Stan” about a parasocial-obsessed fan, who spiraled after no response from his idol. It is harmful, to say the least, to portray a raging Black woman who idols a pop star as a serial killer who has no hope for redemption.
We already struggle with toxic fandom stereotypes on social media platforms, we can’t be too passionate about a topic without being angry, nor can fandom come with violence granted to sport team fans, and “stan” communities (Taylor Swift’s Swifties, BTS’s Army, etc.) A Black woman’s luxury to rage hardly comes on television screens and despite the criticism, I really enjoyed it as a series. But I can’t shake it that this is about a traumatized raging character who is a product of parasocial relationship culture in a pretty horrific way, well executed by Dominique.
Overall the series was cinematically triggering and on point, especially with the satirical references, the writing, thoughtful colorways, slow zooms, pacing visuals and overall production. It really has me thinking after the first watch. The series is not flattering for fandom communities but is definitely a stan community conversation trigger, jaw-dropping, sweat-palm type of situation, that will have you thinking twice when anyone asks you “Who’s your favorite artist?”
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can also text the Crisis Text Line by texting HELLO to 741741.