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All of the Real-Life Events That Inspired ‘Swarm’

Spoilers ahead

If you haven’t seen Swarm yet, you need to immediately. The limited series, directed by Donald Glover and Janine Nabers and starring Dominique Fishback, Chloe Bailey, Billie Eilish, and Paris Jackson, released on Amazon Prime on March 17, and it is… something. The seven-episode series follows an anti-hero named Dre (Fishback), a mass murdering Houston-based super-fan of a fictional popstar named Ni’jah, who is loosely based on Beyonce and the Beyhive. Shortly after her foster sister Marissa (Bailey) dies, Dre goes on a killing spree, tracking down anyone who ever spoke bad about her favorite artist on Twitter, and bludgeoning them to death after posing the question: “who’s your favorite artist?”

The surreal and dark series with a hint of humor feels like one long ‘Atlanta’ episode (also written by Glover), and offers a real and harrowing look at the negative impact of stan culture (the amount of people online who admitted to relating to Dre is terrifying) and suggests that many of these artists continue to condone, if not to say, enable their rabid fans’ behaviors. This idea is wonderfully explored in the series finale, where after rushing the stage during one of Ni’jah’s performances, Dre is not only excused, but later coddled by her so-called “favorite girl.” The show closes with a shot of a teary-eyed Dre whispering “thank you” to her idol who is literally embracing her in the back of her limo.

What makes Swarm even more compelling is that Glover and Nabers drew inspiration from a number of different real life headlines and events to put together the show, which takes place between 2016 to 2018. In fact, each episode opens with a disclaimer that states “This is not a work of fiction. Any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events, is intentional.”

While the show isn’t based on a true story, there are a number of actual events from 2016 to 2018 in America that inspired many of the bizarre scenarios that our anti-hero found herself in, because as they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

Marissa’s death

In the first episode, Marissa commits suicide after learning that her boyfriend Khalid (Damson Idris) has been cheating on her. Back when Beyonce’s Lemonade released, an internet rumor/urban legend developed about a woman named Marissa Jackson that killed herself in response to the Queen Bey being cheated on. Speaking to Shondaland, Nabers reveals that this internet rumor directly inspired the pilot episode. “In April of 2016, Lemonade was released. On the same night, there was a rumour about a woman named Marissa Jackson who committed suicide after watching this visual album because it basically confirmed that a very powerful man was cheating on one of the most incredibly beautiful and successful pop stars of our time,” Nabers explained. “I’m from Houston, Texas, and my very best friend’s last name is Jackson. There was a lot of texting between Houstonians being like, “Yo, who is this Marissa Jackson? Is this a true story?” And that existed on the internet for a while, and people were tweeting really horrible things about this woman who had killed herself and making fun of her.”

Billie Eilish playing a cult leader

Dre hits the road to see her favorite star at Bonnaroo despite not having a wristband or tickets, but gets pulled over in Tennessee by a racist cop. After stopping at a gas station to try and get him off her tail, a young white woman comes to her rescue, and Dre follows her back to a compound full of more seemingly friendly white women, led by Billie Eilish‘s Eva. Dre soon discovers that the group is less commune and more cult, and ends up running Eva over multiple times (along with other cult members) and escaping. According to Nabers, Eilish’s character was inspired by Hollywood-adjacent cult, NXIVM, which involved actresses like Alison Mack, and its leader Keith Raniere, who was sentenced to 120-years in prison.

Dre biting Ni’jah at an after-party

swarm review

One of most unsettling mysteries of our time was back in 2018 when Tiffany Haddish revealed that there was a Beyonce biter moving through our midst during an interview with GQ. At a party for Jay-Z’s 4:44 album, Haddish said she witnessed “this actress there that’s just, like, doing the mostest,” aka, “She bit Beyoncé in the face . . . so Beyoncé stormed away, went up to Jay Z, and was like, ‘Jay! Come here! This bitch—’ and snatched him,” Haddish recounted. “They went to the back of the room. I was like, ‘What just happened?’ And Beyoncé’s friend walked up and was like, ‘Can you believe this bitch just bit Beyoncé?’” This incident was revisited in episode three of Swarm, when Dre sneaks into a private party where Ni’jah is. Seeing her idol in person, Dre is in an entranced state, and doesn’t realize that she bit Ni’jah in the face until it’s too late.

The four strippers murdering the man who helped them change their tire

swarm show

“Four strippers charged after good Samaritan who fixed their car and offered them shelter is shot and killed” reads a 2017 headline from The Mirror. The incident, which took place in Missouri, is re-told in the second episode of Swarm, where Dre decides to become an adult dancer after stalking the social media of a man named Reggie who tweeted that her deceased sister Marissa “got what she deserved” and discovered that his favorite spot to frequent was a strip club in Tennessee. Dre made plenty of money stripping, but one of the girls asks her if she wants to make more money. Dre’s ears perk up, and she says she is down. The five strippers eventually end up at Reggie’s house after their car broke down and he offered to help them. Dre tries to murder Reggie for his tweets about Marissa and Ni’jah with a pan, but he overpowers her and begins to strangle her. That’s when the four strippers barge in to the bathroom and find Reggie choking Dre out. One of the girls takes out her gun and shoots Reggie, while another girl proceeds to search his pockets.

Dre/Tony rushing the stage during Ni’jah’s performance

In 2018, during Beyoncé and Jay-Z “On the Run II” concert in Atlanta, a man was charged for attempting to rush the stage and beelining towards the stars when their backs were turned to the audience— kind of like how Dre, who at this point goes by Tony, jumps on the stage in the series finale.

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