Four episodes were screened for this review of Swarm.
Creators Janine Nabers and Donald Glover are incredibly fearless, or maybe stupid, for challenging Stan Twitter with their new Prime Video horror thriller Swarm. For those of you who are not chronically online, stans, which blend the words “stalker” and “fan,” are avid supporters of a particular celebrity, musician, television show, movie, or any other form of media for mass consumption.
The word was first popularized in 2000 when Eminem released his hit song, “Stan,” about an overzealous man who sends his favorite rapper unhinged fan letters. Nowadays, most people do not craft handwritten notes that express their love and devotion to their favorite celebrity. Instead, they post memes, videos, and comments on social media platforms like Twitter.
One of the biggest and possibly most controversial stan groups is the BeyHive. Originally called The Beyontourage, the group is known for taking their allegiance to Beyoncé too far. To illustrate, when fans sent Nicole Curran, the wife of Golden State Warriors owner Joe Lacob, death threats for simply talking to Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z, at an NBA game, Beyoncé’s publicist had to issue a public apology. Considering the artist’s release of her latest album Renaissance and her upcoming world tour, it is intriguing that Nabers and Glover are tackling the BeyHive head-on. With Dominique Fishback’s riveting performance, the writing team’s incredible characterization of a Black female anti-hero, and the episode’s distinct visual styles, Swarm provides an in-depth critique of Twitter fandoms through the eyes of a troubled young Black woman.
Swarm follows Dre (Fishback), a socially awkward Black woman from Houston with dreams of meeting her favorite pop idol, Ni’Jah (Nirine Brown). Our anti-hero’s story begins when she scores two tickets to the musician’s new world tour. These tickets, which cost $1,800 a pop, mean everything to Dre as she has nothing to look forward to in her life. She is underemployed, her best friend Marissa (Chloe Bailey,) an aspiring celebrity makeup artist, pays most of the rent, and her former high school classmates consider her the resident weirdo. However, the one thing that gives Dre life is her commitment to The Swarm, a Ni’Jah stan account on Twitter. As a Ni’Jah fan, Dre dedicates her time, money, and energy to the artist. To Dre, Ni’Jah is not just a Black woman with an incredible voice. She is a goddess.
Unfortunately, Dre’s situation takes a turn when Marissa’s boyfriend, Khalid (Damson Idris,) hits on her while she is covering a shift for her roommate at the local mall. This conflict creates a rift between the friends as Dre believes Khalid is a bad influence on Marissa. To make matters worse, Marissa plans to move in with her boyfriend after her birthday celebration in Atlanta despite his philandering ways. Afraid of losing her one and only friend, Dre self-destructs and focuses all her attention on becoming Ni’Jah’s stalker, ahem, new best friend. As the obsessive fan travels across America in pursuit of her idol, she leaves a trail of mayhem and destruction in her wake.
Swarm currently features one of the most morally ambiguous, perhaps even sympathetic, Black female protagonists on television. Dre’s obsession with Ni’Jah is fascinating because she ties her self-worth to the Black entertainer’s success. In some ways, Ni’Jah represents everything the stalker does not have but desperately wants in her life. The Beyoncé-adjacent pop star is from Dre’s hometown. However, unlike her number one fan, Ni’Jah has a flourishing career, a loving but messy romantic partner named Caché (Stephen Glover), and, most importantly, the adoration of her fans. So, when Marissa’s boyfriend tells Dre in Episode 1, “You know, Ni’Jah is just a regular woman,” it makes sense that Dre takes his comment as a personal affront. If Khalid does not believe Ni’Jah is exceptional, who will ever believe in a lonely Black girl like Dre?
The writing team brilliantly portrays Dre as a complex anti-hero in Swarm, but it is Fishback’s career-defining performance as the stalker that makes the horror thriller worthwhile. Like a chameleon, the actor has this incredible ability to morph herself into different versions of her character with precision. These skills are on full display in Episode 3’s “Taste.” During the intense but delightfully funny scene, Dre creepily follows George (Byron Bowers), a crew member who works on the Caché tour, to his apartment in Los Angeles. Her goal is to steal his All-access pass, so she can finally meet Ni’Jah in person. Tragically for George, Dre becomes an unsuspecting agent of chaos in his life.
As the camera pans across the exterior of George’s apartment, we see Dre studying her mark outside. Suspecting someone is following him, George whips around, and Dre immediately ducks for cover in perfect comedic timing. When the coast is clear, Dre haphazardly climbs through George’s window; however, the homeowner catches her on his living room floor. Fortunately for Dre, she manages to charm her way into the gentleman’s heart by presenting herself as an abused damsel in distress named Shanice. This scene is a masterclass in acting as it allows Fishback to stretch her comedic and dramatic chops. Within seconds, Fishback shapeshifts from a predator stalking her prey to a helpless woman with just a simple flip of her curly hair and a flash of her big doe eyes.
Though Glover is not working with his longtime collaborator director Hiro Murai in Swarm, the directors he picks for each episode still elevate the visuals with their distinct styles. These shifts in tone, mood, and color palate work as it mirrors the “personas” Dre tries but fails to put on during her cross-country journey. For instance, Episode 3 features a more clean and glamorous style that reflects the high-roller lifestyles of the rich and famous in Los Angeles, while Episode 2’s “Honey” utilizes a grittier tone to emphasize Dre’s wild adventure with the strippers she meets in Tennessee. Director Ibra Ake even makes a subtle callback to Atlanta with his use of lush green hues and panoramic views in the female empowerment-themed episode “Running Scared.”
Glover can pretend that his viewers do not have any sway over his work, but he is paying attention, particularly with his portrayal of Black female characters. Instead of regulating another dark-skinned Black woman to the background, he makes her the star of Swarm. Sure, his depiction of Dre is imperfect, as the show’s commentary on diet culture does not add anything fresh to the series. Yet, with his co-creator Nabers, they create a tragically flawed but relatable character who sacrifices everything for her pop star. The Beyhive may come after Nabers, Glover, and Fishback for highlighting the fanbase’s problematic behavior, but they will also have their share of supporters on Film and TV Twitter. Those guys are just as rabid as the BeyHive.
Featured image courtesy of Prime Video
All episodes for Swarm Season 1 will premiere on March 17 on Prime Video
'Swarm' Season 1 - 10/10