Is Janine Nabers and Donald Glover’s new serial killer television series, Swarm, a true story? It’s hard not to wonder after seeing the show’s opening title card, which reads: “Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is intentional.”
That’s the first image from the series, and hoo boy is there a rabbit hole behind it. From the show’s obvious allusions to Beyoncé, to its violent twists and turns, to its dark and fascinating exploration of psyche in the modern world, Swarm tells an exceptional story of fandom, grief, and madness… but it still has left many wondering: “Wait, did this actually happen?”
Now, the short answer to that question is: kinda, but not really. The longer answer to that question, however, is the opening of that aforementioned rabbit hole — which Nabers and Glover spent months going down themselves. From fandom stories to tongue-in-cheek nods to tabloid moments, the tapestry of fiction and fact come together as an intricate display of storytelling. Read below to find out how. [Editor’s note: Spoilers follow.]
What is Swarm?
Swarm is a new series created by Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, who previously worked together on Glover’s seminal show Atlanta. Starring Dominique Fishback as a mega-fan of the in-show mega-star, Ni’Jah, the series also features appearances from Chlöe Bailey (of Chlöe x Halle), Billie Eilish, Paris Jackson, and more. Nabers was the primary writer of the series, but had help from a number of skillful collaborators, including Malia Obama, earning the First Daughter her first television credit. The show premiered March 17th, and is currently streaming on Amazon’s Prime Video.
What is Swarm about?
The series follows Fishback’s mega-fan, Andrea “Dre” Greene, as her life descends from relative normality to murderous chaos. Devoted to her idol, Ni’Jah — who bears some striking similarities to Beyoncé — Greene’s life begins to unravel when the pop star releases a visual concept album about infidelity. Afterwards, tension between her sister and her sister’s boyfriend comes to a boiling point.
Once first blood is drawn, Greene goes on a cross-country trek taking revenge against anyone who dares to disrespect Ni’Jah, or simply gets in the way of her mission. From there, the trauma of Greene’s life melds together with her fandom, her bloodthirst, and her alienation.
Nabers told Conequence, “The idea was, ‘Oh, let’s talk about fandom. And let’s find facts that kind of support our theory — is this a story to tell for TV?’ And we did. And that’s what that is. . . Ni’Jah is supposed to represent a feeling of who is the most iconic Black woman representing our culture today in music, who really has a footprint on the internet and really has a footprint just on just social media in general. . . Obviously, people can project whoever they want onto Ni’Jah, but Ni’Jah is a feeling and is a familiar entity in our universe.”
Why are people saying that Swarm is about a Beyoncé fan?
Well, beyond the aforementioned opening image of the series (which, c’mon, totally makes you want to know what the show is based on), there are several reasons why Beyoncé and her mega-fans are at the center of the Swarm media buzz.
There are obvious allusions, like the setting in Houston, the similarity of Beyoncé’s “BeyHive” and the show’s “Swarm,” and the visual concept album about an unfaithful husband (titled Festival in the show, as opposed to Bey’s Lemonade).
Additionally, the fictional Ni’Jah was pregnant with twins, just like Beyoncé was in 2017. Ni’Jah also has a famous sister to whom she is often compared, similar to Beyoncé’s sibling Solange… and just like the infamous incident with Jay-Z in the elevator, Ni’Jah looked on as her boyfriend and sister fought.
The show’s creators even included a humorous reference to the notorious incident in which a “famous fan” bit Beyoncé at a party. John Legend may not want to talk about it, but Swarm didn’t shy away from referencing the internet rumor that Love & Basketball star Sanaa Lathan went for the chomp. In the show, after Greene loses her nerve meeting Ni’Jah for the first time and flees the scene, a witness remarks, “You know who that was? [The] chick from Love & Basketball.”
But there are deeper similarities to reality, too. Greene’s sister is Marissa Jackson, which was the name of the woman who supposedly killed herself in 2016 after watching Lemonade and learning of Jay-Z’s infidelity. While the story was debunked, the legacy lives on, especially in the minds of the Swarm creators.
Okay, so are the Swarm creators pushing back against the speculation?
Well, yes and no. The creators did make an effort to clarify that the show is fictional, and even included an additional, more standard title card after the conclusion of the first episode. In contradiction to the attention-grabbing opening shot, this second title card informs viewers that all allusions to reality are “entirely coincidental and unintentional.” At the same time, the creators haven’t been afraid to talk about some of the real-world connections.
“In Texas, there was a rumor that a girl named Marissa Jackson killed herself because she realized that a certain pop star was being cheated on by her husband,” Nabers said at the show’s premiere at South by Southwest. “For two days, we thought this was a real event, and it was dispelled later on Black Twitter. So when Donald pitched this idea of a Black woman who’s obsessed with the pop star, I said, ‘I know what the pilot is’ and ran with it. So, every episode deals with real news stories, real events or internet rumors that have happened, and we have put our wonderful woman at the center of that story.”
Likewise, Glover nodded to the obvious connections to real-life at the show’s Los Angeles premiere, where he joked: “BeyHive, don’t kill us.”
Yet, the creators have also made a distinction between fact and fiction: “Everything is legally combed through,” Nabers told Variety. “If we pushed it, we pushed it to the very, very, very edge, but it’s legal and we’re proud of that.”
Speaking to Consequence, Nabers explained: “[Glover and I] sat down with each other over the course of six months and really hammered out this story over the course of two and a half years of this woman’s life… A lot of research went into it. We’re really, really proud of it. We’re just really excited for people to watch episodes and Google and see the truth behind it.”
So, hey, if you watched episodes, Googled the truth behind it, and read this article, that’s pretty cool! Welcome to the rabbit hole.
But if you haven’t seen any of Swarm yet, fear not — you can learn more about the show and watch the trailer here.