‘Swarm’ Co-Creator Unpacks Dre’s Sexuality, Paris Jackson’s Casting and That Pie-Eating Scene.
Rumors of a Donald Glover project about a “Beyoncé-like figure” have been swirling in Hollywood for at least two years. And while no one involved will say Knowles’ name — though Glover has called out the Beyhive and co-creator and showrunner Janine Nabers has spoken about “a certain pop star from Houston” — that series is finally here.
“Swarm” stars Dominique Fishback as Dre, an emotionally stunted superfan of a singer named Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown), who is a bit unhealthily obsessed with her own sister, Marissa (Chloe Bailey). When a fight between the sisters separates them for a night, Dre goes out to celebrate Ni’Jah’s surprise album drop (clearly inspired by “Lemonade,” in which Beyoncé sings about being cheated on) while Marissa discovers that she’s being cheated on by her boyfriend, Khalid (Damson Idris). Unable to reach Dre for support, she dies by suicide.
After mysteriously being turned away from Marissa’s funeral by “the family,” Dre murders Khalid, both for betraying Marissa and for not respecting Ni’Jah. (It seems she’s beginning to conflate the two.) The rest of the series sees her on a rampage, of mourning Marissa and killing Ni’Jah detractors while desperately hoping to meet the star one day. In the finale, she finally does — sort of. After hanging up her serial killer’s hat and taking on a new identity, she spends thousands of dollars that should have gone toward rent on Ni’Jah tickets. This upsets her girlfriend, Rashida (Kiersey Clemons), who hates Ni’Jah, and Dre has another mental breakdown. She murders Rashida and burns the body, then realizes she’s burned the tickets too, so she goes to the concert and stabs a scalper to get his tickets. Dre makes it to the front row, then manages to hop onto the stage. As security rushes in to apprehend her, Ni’Jah stops them and embraces Dre — but it’s Marissa’s face that Dre sees.
Donald Glover and you have spoken about how the idea “Swarm” came from, imagining what it would look like if the serial killer subgenre focused on a Black woman instead of a white man. What were you initially envisioning as you created the character of Dre?
The terminology we used was “alien.” This woman is an alien in her own world. If you look at the pilot, when she gets to Khalid’s house, there’s aliens on TV. Right. That’s a through line with her throughout the series. We really looked to “The Piano Teacher” for inspiration. Donald introduced that movie to me, and it blew my mind. It centers around a woman who has a very everyday way of living her life on the surface, and then when you peel back the layers of her complicated psychology, you unearth a completely different type of human that is very alien-feeling. But me being from Houston and Donald being from Atlanta, we wanted to filter it through a Southern, Black female perspective. It is a little bit like a sister “Atlanta” when you look at the weird family relationships.
In the second to last episode, which is styled like a true crime documentary, it’s revealed that Dre had been in foster care before getting adopted into Marissa’s family and sent back again for her violent behavior. We don’t get any detail about how she ended up in the system or what it was like for her. Did you ever imagine more of her backstory than that?