Whether it be a favorite film, an amazing accessory, or the best singer in the music industry, you would be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t been obsessed with something at least once in their lifetime. This powerful obsession, specifically with celebrities, is something that Amazon Prime Video’s new original series Swarm looks to tackle. Our tale begins with Dre (Dominique Fishback), an exceptionally devoted stan of the songstress Ni’Jah, doing whatever she can, even maxing out her credit card, to get tickets to her latest tour. As the series goes on, Dre’s deep love for Ni’Jah and her desperate need to see her live make her behavior increasingly erratic, with consequences that will shift her life forever.
The teaser trailer for the series, produced and created by Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, had social media sites, especially Twitter, abuzz (pun intended) with just what the show would be about and if it was – not so subtly – trying to take aim at Beyoncé’s famed fandom, The Beyhive. While there are similarities between Mrs. Knowles-Carter and the show’s fictional pop star Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown), this story has much more on its mind than taking easy jabs at a real-life fanbase. Swarm is rich with social commentary, and keeps you guessing about just how far its willing to go with its topical themes.
Swarm delves deep into the psyche of Dre (Dominique Fishback) and how her love of Ni’Jah, which she shares with her best friend Marissa (Chloe Bailey), is an all-consuming entity that weaves itself into every facet of her life. However, what some might see as an obsession proves to be more of a lifeline for Dre. Ni’Jah, or rather, the idea of her, gives Dre hope and something to hold on to. This isn’t really that far-out of concept to those who spend enough time online, as it’s practically impossible to not come across this kind of behavior if not actually be in circles with users who exhibit it.
Like many other young people, Dre and Marissa dream of something bigger. They’ve been fans of Ni’Jah, and will do whatever it takes to meet her. Their relationship grows, and the kinship between Dominique Fishback and Chloe Bailey is undeniable. The roles genuinely feel as if they were tailor-made to fit into the two actresses’ specific strengths. The duo together provide the Prime Video original with its most pivotal moments, and their shared chemistry brings out two masterclass performers. Some scenes in Swarm can often be hard to watch as you feel like the actions on-screen shouldn’t be seen, but you can never look away thanks to Fishback and Bailey’s screen presence.
Going further, Dominique Fishback continues to stretch her range in Swarm. Fishback finds a way to make Dre relatable to the audience. As previously mentioned, we were all likely a “stan” of something at some point. Fishback plays to Dre’s quirkiness, giving viewers glimpses of not only why she is a fan of Ni’Jah, but how she displays a vulnerability and need to belong. Despite Dre’s quirks and Ni’Jah obsession, at her core, she is someone that yearns for any kind of love. As Fishback said in a recent interview with us at DiscussingFilm, “I don’t know what it’s like to stan somebody like that – I don’t. But I know what it’s like to love somebody a lot, and she just takes her love to another level.” Fishback effortlessly shows why you empathize with someone who persists with this kind of increasingly erratic mentality.
Chloe Bailey is once again in her acting bag. From playing the younger version of Beyoncé’s character Lily in The Fighting Temptations to portraying Jazlyn in Grown-ish, Bailey continues to make a name for herself as an actress. In Swarm, it’s no different. Bailey’s Marissa is the perfect foil to Fishback’s Dre. They sell a lifelong friendship with ease. Bailey’s effervescence as Marissa draws you to the character, creating the aura that everyone wants to be her friend. This wouldn’t be as believable if not for Bailey in the role.
It’s difficult to discuss Swarm without giving too much away – the element of surprise is of the utmost importance. However, the nuance in the writing is to be praised. Showrunner Janine Nabers’ prowess as a playwright is on full display, especially in episodes one and three wherein it’s almost structured like a play, making it feel like the sequences are segmented into specific acts. As a viewer, it keeps you totally engaged. You feel like a fly on the wall, privy to the things happening around you but small enough that no one would be disturbed by your presence. It makes for an intriguing and thought-provoking horror/thriller series unlike anything else streaming right now. All of Nabers’ previous works from stage to screen can be seen in some way within Swarm, as it pertains to having Black characters inhabiting a space that isn’t usually one we find them in.
That said, the audience’s reaction to seeing how Dre is portrayed on-screen will be divisive that’s for sure. Although some will likely appreciate seeing a Black character in an original horror/thriller like Swarm, the depiction of the various characters might not play well with all viewers. We’ve already seen how fans have reacted online to the Beyhive comparison and the implication that stan culture can lead to violence (some even noting that this is something more aligned with K-pop stans than Beyoncé enthusiasts). However, more than that, Swarm has to do with a Black woman being at the helm of this destructive behavour. Every episode has meaningful beats that lead into Dre’s next journey, and frequently, they are difficult to watch. In contrast, many of these moments also happen due to devastating events in her life. It’s quite the push-and-pull that shows the cyclical nature of not just violence but grief.
Another main theme in Swarm is loss, the state of grief when deprived of someone or value. Throughout the Prime Video original, this is something that Dre struggles with. From the show’s beginning to the end, it takes a toll. It sits within each episode with heaviness and permeates through each and every scene. Visually, it’s shown through flashbacks missed between the characters, and as a viewer, it will make you wonder where the lengths of loss can take a person and ultimately make them do. It is in these moments that Dre is equal parts sympathetic and scary.
Aside from the performances and the exceptional writing, the best part about Swarm is that you never know what you’ll get. Each episode creates a narrative where you might think you know where the story is heading, but you quickly veer down a different road a few sequences later. It’s enough to give you whiplash, yet it always serves the story the creators are telling and adds an extra flair that many television shows seem to be lacking nowadays. It’s definitely a show that needs to be seen all the way in order for audiences to make a solid opinion. And it’s boldness and dynamic duo in Dominique Fishback and Chloe Bailey is well worth sticking through this unpredictable wild ride.