Beyoncé may or may not have some unsettling material in her watchlist lately.
“Swarm,” the Amazon Prime Video series created by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers had its world premiere at South by Southwest on Friday, and the Houston legend’s name was treated like a secret all night. The series follows Dre (Dominique Fishback), a young woman who goes to gory, obsessive lengths to defend a pop star whom she idolizes: Ni’Jah, an extremely un-subtle spoof of Beyoncé.
At the post-screening Q&A session moderated by Vulture’s Sam Sanders, Nabers referred to “a certain pop star” who was cheated on by her husband and surprise-released an album about it in 2016 (Beyoncé’s “Lemonade”).
When asked whether that “pop star who shall not be named” had seen “Swarm” yet, Nabers hesitated, before responding, “Of course.” Sanders then asked whether Nabers could share any more about that, to which she said, “I mean, no.” The audience roared in laughter.
The morning after, however, a representative for Nabers said that she had misspoken, and does not know who has seen the series and who hasn’t.
“Swarm” turned out to be a perfect title for SXSW. The crowd in Austin gasped at every twist and laughed at every gag — though Chloe Bailey, who stars as Dre’s sister, Marissa, buried her face in her popcorn seeing herself on the big screen during once particularly raunchy moment.
Despite the amount of screen time focused on the twisted relationship Dre has to Ni’Jah, Nabers maintains that the series isn’t saying anything definitive about fandom.
“I don’t think that, as a brand, Donald and I believe in a message,” she said. “I think it just exists in the world. And people can interpret it the way that they want to. We hope it inspires people in some way to create weird punk shit, or to talk to other people about the weird punk thing they just saw.”
“Swarm” was certainly an intense project to shoot. Without getting into spoilers, a scene in Episode 1 leaves Dre shrieking and panting, and Fishback shared how she planned ahead for it.
“I had my friend, Monique Coleman, come and be with me on set. I just wanted somebody who knew me there,” she explained. “As actors, we really give ourselves over, and I wanted to make sure that I was mentally protected.”
Bailey mentioned another high-energy shoot where she and Fishback’s characters get into an explosive fight.
“The synergy between us was really magical and intense,” she said. “The scene where we have a huge argument, something happened when we were on set. We both were so shaken up that after the scene, we were in a dark room, crying for 40 minutes. Uncontrollably. It was like we were releasing anything that we’d kept up inside.”
This story has been updated.