Swarm, the new Amazon series from the minds of Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, premiered (fittingly) on a dark and stormy Tuesday night in Hollywood. The subversive horror show, which stars Dominique Fishback as a woman turned mad by standom for a Beyoncé-like pop star, is part of the same universe as Glover’s Atlanta; several of the FX show’s writers and directors worked on Swarm, the first project from Glover under his overall deal with Amazon, as well.
“A lot of Atlanta — at least for seasons three and four that I worked on — was on the internet,” Nabers told on the carpet. “We launched a lot of YouTube videos, a lot of memes, a lot of stuff that lived on the internet. The culture of the internet was very present in Atlanta, and it’s very present in Swarm.” Another parallel that both shows have in common, Nabers says, is that “Donald is from Atlanta and kind of took that city and made it into something a little more subversive, and I’m doing that with Houston, the city that I’m from.”
The seven-part show examines the dangers of parasocial relationships formed at a distance through a screen, serving as a cautionary tale of what can happen when feverish delusion collapses into reality, until they can no longer be distinguished.
“It’s based on true events,” Glover said of the series, which he described as “a post-truth TV show.” “I know there’s a lot of heavier issues or ideas but it really boiled down to, is this something that’d be fun to watch?… That’s something that we talked a lot about [in the writers room], like, this could be really kind of weird.”
With regard to his instincts when it comes to television world-building, Glover told THR, “It just feels like its the same kind of tone that we’ve always set up, but I think that’s just because its how me and my brother [Stephen Glover] and the writers from Atlanta just kind of work.” Glover, who directs the first episode, felt like it was a strong project to start his Amazon relationship with because he wanted to start fresh doing something “wild.”
“[I wanted to] see if we could build something I would want to see right now with some young actors,” he said.
Fishback, the show’s Black female protagonist Dre — who, with this, has also earned her first producer credit — said she was excited about playing a character that was a bit of a departure from previous roles, citing her background in theater as the foundation for reveling “in the opportunity to do something different… and challenge my craft as an actor.”
“I honestly give all the credit to my inner child, the one who came before there was social media and a lot of opinions that you have access to, [when] you watch different films and say, ‘Man, I want to do something like that!’” the actress continued. “So when the opportunity presented itself and it could be a little bit scary, I had to remember and go back to her — she wanted to try it before she was scared of anybody’s opinion of her, or what they thought she should or shouldn’t do.”
Usually Fishback prepares for roles by journaling as a way to get into her character’s head, but she didn’t take that approach for this role. “Psychologically on the page, I couldn’t really track her, so I had to just decide to be present,” she said. And in her role as producer, she wanted the credits for Swarm to reflect the fact that she brings more than just character work to her projects.
“In every project that I do, I advocate for my character and so it was about time I really advocated for myself,” Fishback added. “I never just think about my character, I think about the whole entire world and arc of the whole show.”
The premiere was attended by fellow castmates Kiersey Clemmons, Karen Rodriguez and Rory Culkin, with a special appearance by Billie Eilish.
Chloe Bailey, who stars as Fishback’s sister Marissa, said she signed onto the project because she “really resonated” with the character, adding: “I think a lot of people can relate to her.”
And Damson Idris, who plays Bailey’s boyfriend, said of working with the group, “[Dominique] is a true artist, a transformative artist. She’s not always going to play a girl from Brooklyn in her career, she’s going to constantly morph and those are the people I want to work with,” adding, “I’d rather make a bad movie with some people I love than a fantastic movie with some people that I can’t stand.”
The Snowfall actor also said that he believes the show captures the reality of being a public figure and the entitlement that can come from fans “accurately”: “There’s nothing that shocks us today on social media. And as someone who’s in the limelight too living under a magnifying glass, there’s nothing that shocks me either. But to the artists I’d say: start protecting yourself a bit more. You don’t always have to dance.”
Theories around the series’ inspiration have been buzzing with allusions to Beyoncé and her swarm of fans, known as the Beyhive, though the creative team had not publicly confirmed a link. Ahead of the screening, Glover made things a little more black and white, saying of the show’s critique of this level of superstar fandom, “Beyhive don’t kill us, it’s not that bad, it’s actually pretty cool!”
With Swarm, Nabers said she set out to complicate Black female representation on screen because she rejects the idea that she’s heard from Hollywood executives that Black people should just “be happy.”
“I think it’s time for us to have characters that represent as big and as subversive and as weird a world as all of the white characters we’ve seen in many TV shows and movies since the beginning of time,” she noted. “There’s a lot of diversity in horror right now. It isn’t really so scary like a ghost coming out of a closet anymore. I think psychological horror feels like something rich and uncharted territory right now for Black people, so I’m really excited.”
Swarm starts streaming on Prime Video on Friday.