‘Swarm’: Donald Glover’s Beyoncé-Inspired New Series Has Notes of Don Draper and Murder


Donald Glover had an idea: What if his next show—after the surreal, boundary-pushing series Atlanta—told the story of a young woman who was obsessed with a pop star? He knew a thing or two about that, having risen to music stardom with his rap alter-ego Childish Gambino, witnessing the ways in which some fans can push their parasocial relationships with musicians to extremes. He pitched the idea to Janine Nabors, an Atlanta writer who happened to be from Houston—home to music icons like Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion, and, of course, Beyoncé. Nabors took to the idea, and they set off to create Swarm, the forthcoming new series on Amazon. (Take an exclusive first look at images from the series below.)

“We just thought it’d be fun to make a post-truth Piano Teacher mixed with The King of Comedy,” Glover tells VF, referencing the 2001 Michaele Haneke drama and the 1982 Martin Scorsese classic. Take those two films, blend them with Glover and Nabors’s own artistic sensibilities, filter them through the contemporary pop landscape and out comes Swarm

Courtesy of Amazon Studios. 

The series tells the story of Dre (played by Dominique Fishbeck), a young woman who is obsessed with a fictional pop star (whose oeuvre and aesthetic are very similar to Beyoncé.) The show is a dive into Dre’s life, her fandom, and how it takes her to dark, unexpected places.

“We were really interested in creating an anti-hero story,” Nabors tells Vanity Fair. Nabors and Glover took inspiration from classic TV antiheroes who were messy, but compelling—Mad Men’s Don Draper, The Sopranos’ Tony Soprano—and created a new version of that archetype, “through the lens of a Black, modern-day woman.”

Courtesy of Amazon Studios. 

The show stars Fishbeck (Judas and the Black Messiah) in the titular role. “I heard from my team that Donald was creating a show and wanted me to be part of it,” the actress tells VF. “I was like, Oh shoot! Donald Glover knows me. That’s pretty cool,” she adds with a laugh. Fishbeck was originally cast to play Marissa, Dre’s sweet sister, but urged the Swarm creators to let her play the lead, who is a little more offbeat and felt like more of a challenge. “I don’t want to be able to catch up to myself as an actor,” Fishbeck says. “[Dre] didn’t give a lot of direction about who she was, why she felt the way she did. I really had to go on instinct.”

“Me and my brother Stephen were talking about finding someone like Isabelle Huppert, as far a risk-takers in performances,” Glover says of Fishbeck’s casting. Swarm was shot on film, features intimidatingly long takes, and, like Atlanta, has a number of narratively risky moments, requiring an actor who was completely committed and could deliver a resonant performance. 

The pilot, directed by Glover, has a scene that combines all three of those elements. “When we shot the last scene of the pilot, every single person stopped what they were doing and gave Dom a standing ovation for three minutes,” Nabors says. “I’ve been doing TV for a long time and I’ve never seen that. That was the moment that Donald and I looked at each other and we were like, ‘All right—we got something right.”

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