A cultural object scrutinized by a free and assumed criticism. Today, Swarm, the new series from Donald Glover and Janine Nabers,
The series is signed Donald Glover, to whom we owed the brilliant series Atlantawhich I wrote about here a few weeks ago – four seasons, very heterogeneous episodes in a strange device, which dig in style into the trauma of the American black community. Swarm seems to derive from it in a certain way, in a continuity which is both its interest and undoubtedly its limit.
“Swarm” means the swarm: this swarm is a community to which the heroine, Andrea, known as Dre, belongs. She is in her twenties and she is an absolute fan of Ni’Jah, star of the song, almost transparent double of Beyoncé, the one also called Queen B, the queen of the bees. Dre lives with a roommate her age on whom she seems to be completely dependent, both financially and emotionally. Dre is not exactly a young woman like the others: strange, secretive, enlightened, obsessive, violent (we discover it quite early), especially if we dare to speak ill of her idol. This is the story of a spectacular road trip in seven episodes, a genesis of series B, during which Dre becomes a monster. Seven moments of wandering and flight between Texas and Georgia, during which Dre, under various identities, works in a strip club, finds herself enrolled in a sorority on the sidelines of a festival, returns to the foster family who raised her, or falls in love with a young student. Seven rather chic episodes: the staging is licked, the image very stylized, with one or two small luxury surprises in the cast, in particular the singer Billie Eilish who interprets a kind of rather frightening guru. Swarm runs firmly into the horror movie genre, with hyper gritty scenes, frying pan massacres, creaking bones, squirting blood, bodies to vanish, all with a measured dose of parody and burlesque, and at the service of a fundamental reflection on black identity in the United States.
America’s Deep Trauma
This mechanism was already at work in Atlanta, several episodes of which functioned as units, resolutely leaning towards the horror genre. The psychopathic possibility was already omnipresent. Obsession and trauma were treated more than as motives: real forms in which to think of a kind of impossibility of black identity. It was exciting, precisely because the genres alternated. Atlanta was not a round, continuous object, but something totally deformed, and in this discontinuity was found paradoxically the effectiveness of the political purpose. Next to, Swarm seems a little simple, even, and it’s a shame, seems to flatten or soften the radicality ofAtlanta. For example, this episode where Dre finds herself trapped in a cult of young white bourgeois who eat quinoa and do meditation: this is exactly the kind of structure and patterns that we could see in Atlanta, but in a finer way. We regret a little the big clogs of horror, the characters are much more caricatural, the more classic narration, and the more basic reflection on this story of obsession for a star of pop culture. The cruelty ends up tiring, just as the morbid motifs – that of swarming and buzzing insects, for example – are all too visible metaphors of a decay that loses its reality in the cliché. There remain a few welcome moments of trouble, for example in an episode that takes the form of a real mockumentary on the case in question, where we follow a detective convinced of having to deal with a black serial killer.
Above all, beyond the slightly disappointing main character, remains the performance of its interpreter, Dominique Fishback, discovered by many in the series. The Deuce by David Simons where she played a young prostitute. It is a changing body, at the same time clumsy and elegant, feminine and masculine, adult and childish, beautiful and ugly, a totally versatile face, an apparition which seems endlessly impossible to control, which deeply moves and worries, far beyond. beyond the accepted codes of the horror film. Finally all the interest of Swarm rests on her, reproducing in the spectator the effect of fascination described by the series: we find ourselves obsessed by this figure a little in the same way that she herself is obsessed by her idol.
Transcription of Lucile Commeaux’s column
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- Series Swarmby Donald Glover and Janine Nabers, with Dominique Fishback, Nirine S. Brown and Chloe Bailey, is available on
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