Ever since Swarm hit its streaming premiere, the Prime Original series has buzzed conversations that are just as interesting as its own characters. Co-creator and showrunner of Swarm, Janine Nabers, birthed the series alongside Donald Glover who wanted to tell a story about a pop star-obsessed woman. With Dominique Fishback steering the acting ship, the character of Dre was in extremely good hands. However, trying to find the humanity in a character who commits the heinous acts we see in Swarm can be difficult.
This is where Janine Nabers uses her chops as a published playwright and writer to drive the story with a character study many fans will not be used to seeing on-screen. This allows the audience to see Dre in every facet while her tale unfolds throughout the series. Dre’s obsession with the fictional songstress Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown) is inspired by megastar Beyoncé and the dedicated fans who identify with real-life groups like the ARMY, the Barbz, and of course the BeyHive. Nabers isn’t simply poking fun at these internet fandoms in Swarm though, she’s out to find out why any regular person would go to extreme lengths for the art they consume.
Janine Nabers is no stranger to complex and fascinating female characters having written for shows like Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce on Bravo and Atlanta on FX. Nabers also served as a supervising producer on the first two episodes of the critically-acclaimed Watchmen HBO mini-series. Her published plays include Serial Black Face, Welcome to Jesus, and Juniper; Jubilee. All of these works are extremely character-driven, demonstrating Nabers’ attention to detail as she juggles colorful cast ensembles. The cast of Swarm is jam-packed with recognizable talent too, including Chloe Bailey, Damson Idris, Rory Culkin, Paris Jackson, Kiersey Clemons, Byron Bowers, and pop star Billie Eilish in her on-screen acting debut.
We had the chance to sit down with Janine Nabers for an exclusive interview and she shared how her experience wearing many hats including story editor, producer, but specifically, a playwright helped her to use characters to dictate the story in Swarm. We also touch upon cult-like fandoms and how the series is a rare instance of villainy being embraced in a Black-led story in the mainstream.
Exclusive Interview with Janine Nabers for Swarm on Amazon Prime Video
Swarm is wild and unpredictable from episode to episode. Could you speak briefly about how the series first came to be?
Janine Nabers: Well, Donald Glover pitched the idea to me during season four of Atlanta. And he basically was just like, ‘I really want to write a story about a woman that’s obsessed with a pop star,” and we just kind of ran with it.
Speaking of someone obsessed with a pop star, were there specific fan bases that you looked toward for inspiration for the various characters in the series, specifically Dre?
Janine Nabers: Dre represents a lot of myself and Donald and the people that were in that room in terms of just like, the idea of someone focusing in on a person that you’re really, really drawn to and drawn to the music. The fact that I created it with Donald, who in his own right, is a star of music, it was pretty easy to take samples from his own life kind of. And I’ve seen people take ownership of him in person. It was just a lot of fun to create.
Thus far in your career, you’ve gotten to where so many hats as a playwright, producer, story editor, and writer. So how have all of these experiences shaped the way that you approached the creation of Swarm?
Janine Nabers: As a playwright, the idea of a character drives everything. I think Dre, if you had seven episodes of her character, every single episode, you’re kind of dropped into a different moment in time with her. But the character evolves with each episode, I think, in a pretty extraordinary way because the show takes place over two and a half years. And for me, character drive is the absolute way to tell a story, you know? Giving someone a very clear middle, beginning, and end. With her, I feel like the pilot is very much the origin story of a villain. And the end of her journey is a very definite ending, in my opinion.
In continuing on the topic of villains, there are a couple of characters in Swarm that many may classify as villains. So were there any villains specifically that you thought of when you are creating some of these characters?
Janine Nabers: Interesting question. I would say anyone who opposes the viewpoint of your main character and antagonizes them in any way inherently becomes a villain. So that is just really part of keeping the story moving, you know? So I don’t think we approached them as villains as much as just the counterpoint to her story.
And when viewers get the chance to finish Swarm, what do you hope they take away from the series itself and the different characters within it?
Janine Nabers: I just hope people see this show and see that it’s Black people making stories for Black people specifically and doing it in a way that’s really out of the box and avant-garde. And allowing to put a Black woman in a role that I think a lot of white men inherently have been kind of put in, in terms of just this idea of someone being a villain in their own story and driving kind of violence through character.