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Donald Glover and Janine Nabers’ new show ‘Swarm’ takes the Beyhive to the extreme

A limited series about a deranged fan willing to kill in defense of her idol, Janine Nabers’ “Swarm” is an unexpected and sustainable follow-up to the most recent work of the television writer and playwright.

Nabers, who contributed to the final season of Donald Glover’s seminal FX series “Atlanta” (which ended in November), takes the helm this time as showrunner and head writer, though he splits creator and executive producer duties.

Continuing the “Atlanta” tradition of outlandish and erratic storytelling, “Swarm” follows Dre (Dominique Fishback), a Houston native and die-hard fan of the pop phenomenon Ni’Jah. Ni’Jah is a cheeky avatar for Beyoncé, from her touring wardrobe to her music mogul husband, Caché. But Nabers insists that the show is not specifically aimed at the Beyhive. “It’s really allowing people to see themselves in the Dre madness because we took real facts and put a person in the middle,” she said.

Each episode begins with the disclaimer: “This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to real people, living or dead, or real events is intentional.” And while Dre’s character is truly fictional, many of the pop culture events and crimes depicted are real.

“We researched for months to basically find events (between 2016 and 2018) that we could put our main character in,” Nabers said. “So it’s not really a work of fiction. We’ve taken real rumors from the internet, real murders, and we’ve combined them into the narrative of our main character, Dre. Not much of it is manufactured.”

The seed for the idea was planted during the final season of “Atlanta,” when Glover presented Nabers with the general premise of a homicidal superfan. “And then we ran with it during COVID,” he said. “I created this with (Glover), a music artist who has his own kind of swarm and fan base, so we drew from both personal and (not) experiences. So I think it’s okay for people to say, ‘They remind me of Barbz or Swifties.’ That’s the conversation we want people to have.”

“It would be great if there was a way for people to look outside of themselves and (examine) what their relationship is with certain celebrities,” he added. “A lot of people appropriate people they love that they’ve never met before and as wild as Dre is, and as extreme as some of his actions are, when you pull back the curtain of obsession and bigotry, I think there’s a lot of people who can relate to her in some way.”

“A lot of times for black actresses, we play … not necessarily stereotypical (roles), but it’s something that we’ve been seen often. I’m so blessed to be able to do it with this character,” Dominique Fishback said of playing a serial killer.

(Courtesy of Prime Video)

In building Ni’Jah’s career, Nabers drew on several unforgettable moments in Beyoncé’s life (including that now-infamous elevator moment and the moment someone bit his face) and recreated them for the screen.

“Obviously all these people are public figures and legally you can’t use the actual images,” he explained. “So we did the images (ourselves) and they are so much fun. We were able to recreate every moment within that time frame. When we sat down to look at that period in history, it was really about the feeling those moments gave you. Everyone remembers where they were when the elevator moment happened. It is undeniable that there are moments with musicians that change the culture”.

“(Furthermore) the murders are reenactments,” he added. “Everything you see throughout this show is something that has been researched and vetted. And I think we did a really good job of letting our audience live in these little American moments that have really been around, but people just don’t know about it.”

Fishback was originally approached to play Dre’s sister, Marissa. “As an actor who wants the opportunity to challenge himself, I was looking forward to seeing what that would be like,” she said. “After I said I wanted it, and (Donald Glover) said, ‘Well, it’s yours.’ I was like, ‘Oh man, what did I get myself into?

“The clearest direction Donald gave me was that Dre was emotionally stunted,” he added. “They didn’t give me much in the role, so it was really up to me. I decided that I would not try to orchestrate how it was going to move; I was going to let the clothes, the hair, and my fellow actors influence me.”

“Donald and I talk a lot about how she is our interpretation of someone who is a bit of an outsider in her own world,” Nabers said. “We were inspired by a lot of European movies, we saw a lot of the Criterion Collection and we are both big fans of Michael Haneke, this really amazing German director who has made some really great French movies. That was a big influence on us. We saw ‘The Piano Teacher,’ which is one of the most extravagant movies I’ve ever seen.”

Dre was heavily influenced by the psychological drama’s lead, Erika (played by Isabelle Huppert), the titular instructor who suffers from sexual repression and lives with her overbearing mother. “We followed her perspective throughout the movie,” Nabers said. “She doesn’t talk much, but she is one of the most memorable characters in movie history.”

Nabers was also inspired by iconic serial killer movies and morally ambiguous leading men like Tony Soprano. “The feeling that Tony Soprano gives you when you’re looking at him and it’s fascinating, but also terrifying. I think a lot of those characters that we call iconic (are based) on their dangerousness and their charisma and the power to hold space,” Nabers said. “A lot of those characters have been reserved for white people on TV and in movies, especially white males. So we wanted to take some of that white masculine energy and channel it into a black woman who doesn’t give up.”

“I see movies like ‘Monster’ with Charlize Theron, ‘Boys Don’t Cry’ with Hilary Swank and (‘The Dark Knight’) with Heath Ledger as the Joker and all of these artists built a character,” Fishback said. . “A lot of times for black actresses, we play … not necessarily stereotypical (roles), but it’s something that we’ve been seen often. I am very blessed to be able to do it with this character.”

“There is something about these characters that is compelling in a way, despite their evil,” Nabers said. “I think there’s something about the back and forth with the mind trying to figure out or rationalize how a serial killer gets away with what he did for so long. There’s a bit of (this person) playing a part, which I think is very interesting. It is a tale as old as time, it is America. Serial killers have always existed and always will exist.”

“Swarm” premieres Friday at SXSW and begins streaming March 17 on Prime Video.