Swarm, the new Amazon Prime series from Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, inspired a flurry of conversations around so-called “stan culture,” parasocial relationships, and the obsessive nature of some music fans. While the series doesn’t necessarily hide from running parallel to the fandom that surrounds a certain Houston, Texas superstar, the program actually serves as an examination of the deeper and often dark side of obsession.
With the promise that this piece will remain spoiler-free as possible, Swarm, which stars the excellent Dominique Fishback in the role of Andrea “Dre” Greene, is at times a very uncomfortable watch.
The opening episode, “Stung,” was directed by Glover and written by Nabers and the director. There exists heavy-handed “wink wink nudge nudge” references to Beyoncé and the BeyHive, but it becomes more about the singular mission of Dre to get next to the show’s fictional pop star, Ni’Jah, a powerhouse artist and performer who commands the so-called “Swarm” — a collection of fans who will ride on anyone who dares the critique their fave.
Naturally, the satirical sendup of fandoms seen within the series mirrors much of what plays out on social media with mega-popular stars. Names on social media that reference the stars the users revere, devoted fans draped in merchandise from the artist, and an abject willingness to defend the honor of the celebrities by verbally attacking critics with ferocity. As most are discovering, Dre handles the enemies of Ni’Jah with murderous intent which highlights the show’s brutal horror elements.
Since the show’s March 17 air date, much has been made of Glover’s intentions with the program including some believing Swarm is a subtle, if unfounded, continuation of his hatred for Black women. Yes, Glover did express some interesting thoughts about what he expected of Fishback in the role of Dre in a Vulture feature story with Fishback, which asked her to channel an animalistic quality. But does that mean he harbors hatred for Black women? It isn’t for us to say.
Other observers noted that Glover seemingly depicted Black women in a bad light or lacking complexity in the hit series Atlanta, and then there is the fact that Glover isn’t married to a Black woman. This isn’t meant to be a defense against the claims of hate but certainly detracts from the fact Glover largely got out of the way after the first episode and let his team handle the rest.
The decision by some to criticize and center Glover instead of Nabers, a talented playwright, and producer in her own right, steals some of the thunder away from the writing room, Fishback, and the dozens of actors and crew members who worked on the show. That same light is also taken from the efforts of established Black women writers on the show such as Karen Joseph Adcock, fledgling writers like Malia Obama, and rising writers such as Kara Brown along with Chloe Bailey and her performance.
Is Swarm perfect? Perhaps not. At its core, the series could simply stand as an indictment of “stan culture” and perhaps also that of the seedy underbelly of social media overall. In addition, it displays a Black woman completely disheveled and in need of loving care
It is heartbreaking at times to see how loss and the lack of others not leaning in to surround Dre with love and understanding affects her mental well-being. What we can say overall is that there is nothing on television quite like Swarm at the moment and it deserves a watch even if just for the sake of satisfying one’s curiosity.
Swarm is currently airing on the Amazon Prime streaming service.
Photo: Amazon Prime Video