Janine Nabers, co-creator of Amazon Prime Video’s new thriller series “Swarm,” tells TheWrap how her fear and fascination of stan culture and fandom helped mold the idea for her and Donald Glover’s new buzzy BeyHive-inspired series.
Nabers says there’s fans, and then there’s people like Dre (Dominque Fishback), the main character in her new show, which is centered on the aloof, calculated and creepy superfan of the Beyoncé-esque R&B singer Ni’Jah. Despite having never met her, Dre feels there’s no wrong that Ni’Jah can do, as in her eyes she is the epitome of perfection, and if you express otherwise it could be the last breath you ever take.
While murder isn’t the option most fans would take to defend their favorite celebs, the show highlights the darkness, obsessiveness and sometimes jarring behavior stan and fan culture exhibits. Nabers says she’s a little “far removed” from fandomhood at this point in her life, but its culture intrigues her.
“It scares me a little bit,” says Nabers. I’ve seen people trying to take ownership of Donald out in public.”
Nabers goes on: “You just wonder, like, what makes someone who’s never met someone, who’s never met a particular person in their life, then becomes so obsessed with them that they will do anything to meet them. That to me is really interesting character study in psychology and behavior. I think stan culture is ever-evolving. It’s terrifying. It’s funny, it’s all those things.”
The idea for “Swarm” was a pitch from Glover, who then enlisted Nabers — a Houstonian and longtime “Atlanta” writer — to lead the series as showrunner and executive producer. While Glover didn’t write any of the seven-part series, he did provide his creative opinion and directed the first episode.
“It was originally a pitch from Donald, and we just kind of worked on that together,” Nabers said, who led an all-Black writers team, which included four Black women and four Black men. “He gave me the idea of a Black woman obsessed with a pop star, and we built on it from that. I think he has his own weird fans who are obsessed with him, and I think it was something that he wanted to explore, but he really wanted someone else to write it, and he wanted to direct the pilot. The process was him kind of stepping more into a director and co-creator role and allowing a Black woman to write a series about a Black woman.”
In episode six, the writers introduce Loretta Greene, a detective who has been using clues like social media posts, news articles and murder scenes to look into a slew of killings, eventually coming to the conclusion that the suspect is Dre, who’s real name is revealed as Andrea Greene. The true-crime-inspired episode isn’t real at all, but it did derive from real internet rumors.
While frightening to think of, Nabers says violent fan-obsessed people like Dre do exist.
“Look at John Lennon, look at Versace, look at Selena,” Nabers says. There’s definitely people who have been part of our culture in American. Maybe not a lot of people talk about them anymore, but those people exist.”
She continued: “There are people who do understand the boundaries or the internet and the boundaries of another person’s autonomy and life. Then they are people like Dre who don’t.
As the iconic “Spider-Man” saying goes: “With great power comes great responsibility.” And being a high-profile figure often means you may be associated with the actions of people who make up your following. But Nabers says that is not completely one person’s duty.
“I would say a little bit of yes and no,” Nabers says. “I think the responsibility is just understanding what people are capable of. If you can understand what people are capable of then you can understand there might be certain fans of yours that may or may not cross the line. And do you want that to be the legacy that you have, or do you want that to be something that you can maybe put a message out into the world about peace and unity.”
“Swarm” premiered on March 17, and is now streaming on Prime Video. The series stars Fishback, Chlöe Bailey, Damson Idris, Paris Jackson, Leon, Nirine S. Brown, Karen Rodriguez, Rory Culkin, Kiersey Clemons, Cree Summer, X Mayo and Billie Eilish.