By Josie Shaw, Managing editor of production
The hive buzzes, the bass hits, the blood shimmers and the knife sharpens in Amazon Prime’s new show “Swarm,” directed and produced by Donald Glover and company.
In his first television follow-up since the conclusion of his show “Atlanta,” Glover continues his route of unfolding the music industry in his surreal and comical sense.
“Swarm” follows Dre, a young adult obsessed with superstar, Ni’jah, a musician who definitely holds no similarity to Beyoncé.
That was sarcasm, they might as well be the same person.
Dre proves that she has no limits in defending the reputation of Ni’jah, including, spoiler alert, murder!
With a premise like this, I would expect biting and gripping social commentary on the state of celebrities and their respective fandoms searching for a fulfilling parasocial relationship.
Instead, I found a beautifully shot television show with horribly terrifying action and obnoxiously vague nuance.
Underneath its ambiguous messaging, what is the subtext behind “Swarm”? There is not a lot.
Sure, there is something to be said about how the show contrasts the disproportionate amount of love and attention that celebrities receive versus non-famous people struggling to pay their rent.
Or, how celebrities live off that disparity and profit from their fans’ envy. But, at this point, I find these themes trite and simplistic.
Maybe the purpose of this show is not its messaging, but as a character study of Dre. But if that is true, I find that deeply concerning.
It is worth noting that fans and I have recognized themes of Black femininity at play with the characters, but as a white person, those themes are difficult to dissect on initial viewing. For that reason, my criticisms will focus on my own personal experience.
By episode 7, without much context, Dre is a transgender man and goes by Tony.
Within the story, Tony is met with nothing but love and support for his identity. For the first time, he is accepted for who he is.
Regarding Tony’s inner monologue, or him vocalizing his feelings about his transition, the show’s creators purposefully leave us with nothing but questions.
Does Tony truly identify as trans or is it a method for him to manipulate others for what he wants, Ni’jah?
Contradicted with Dre/Tony’s character in previous episodes, Tony lives a relatively normal and positive life with his newfound girlfriend.
At first, I found this to be a beautiful conversation with the stereotypical trans villain archetype. You know, the one where people are trans or cross-dress for their manipulative needs, à la “Silence of the Lambs,” “Psycho” and J.K. Rowlings TERF daydream, “The Ink Black Heart.”
And then Tony kills his girlfriend. Well.
In Glover fashion, the ending of the show is bold, yet ambiguous. Not sure if that is a compliment.
The shows portrayal of the queer community is morally ambiguous. In fact, most of Glover’s queer representations, back to “Atlanta,” are questionable.
Maybe cultural commentary in media is best left at being vague. Keep it strong enough to where those who need to know, will know.
This never would have happened if we just gave Solange her much deserved love.