This article contains spoilers for the Swarm series premiere, “Stung.”
Swarm—Donald Glover and Janine Nabers’ series about a stan of a world-famous pop star (widely speculated to be inspired by Beyoncé) who becomes a serial killer—took the internet by storm over the weekend after it premiered on Prime Video. But while viewers praised the show’s plot, the writing, and Dominique Fishback’s performance, it also included another round of discourse around how sex is depicted on TV with one of the show’s early sex scenes.
In the first few minutes of Swarm’s first episode, “Stung,” Andrea “Dre” Greene (Fishback) jumps through several hoops to obtain $1,800 tickets to see Ni’Jah (Nirine S. Brown), the musician she’s obsessed with, with a brand new credit card. She walks over to her roommate (and foster sister) Marissa’s (Chloë Bailey) room, where Dre can see and hear Marissa having sex with her boyfriend Khalid (Damson Idris). Marissa doesn’t notice Dre standing and watching her in the doorway, but Khalid does. He looks up and grins at Dre before she walks away.
“Stung” is fixated on sex, between Khalid propositioning Dre (even while he’s dating Marissa) and Marissa’s discovery that Khalid cheated on her. But it’s largely about Dre and Marissa’s relationship with each other and their relationship with Ni’Jah fandom—Marissa mellowed out in adulthood while Dre is still operating at the same level of intensity that she and Marissa were on as teens—that ends with Khalid becoming Dre’s first victim after Marissa died by suicide.
Sex scenes in films and shows are highly technical and choreographed, with intimacy coordinators becoming increasingly common to help ensure actors are comfortable with what they’re filming. (Sasha Smith is credited as the intimacy coordinator in “Stung.”)
After the show’s debut, videos of the sex scene—some direct uploads, others involved filming TV screens— received tens of millions of views on Twitter. But much of the discussion was about the scene itself, with some seemingly under the impression that the actors actually had sex on-screen, with the focus being much more on Bailey’s role in the scene.
Some people also imagined how Beyoncé, who has mentored Bailey and her sister Halle and signed them to her record label, might have reacted upon watching the scene.
But the conversations around the sex scene also got pushback from viewers who called out people’s inability to comprehend when actors are faking sex for the camera.
And other people called out the hypocrisy in shaming and sexualizing Bailey for being part of the sex scene while praising Idris for the same exact thing.
“The way negative discourse about chloe doing a sex scene was all up & down my tl the past few days but I saw not ONE tweet condemning damson participating in the same exact sex scene is why we are DOOMED by misogyny & patriarchy,” @JadeDaGem tweeted.
While promoting Swarm at SXSW, Bailey spoke about how Idris helped her feel comfortable enough to perform, which included details about the prop used to shoot the scene.
“As open and liberal as I am about my body, I was very scared because I haven’t had that many partners; I’m not like that, that sexual and open,” Bailey told Deadline. “So I was like, wooooo, I was like, OK. So Damson made it really comfortable. There were limited people on set, it was a closed set; we were laughing in between. We literally had a bouncy ball in between us. And you know, we were making a joke out of it. So it took all of the nervousness away from that, so I have to give a lot of kudos to him as a man for making me, as a woman, feel comfortable, literally being raw and naked.”
Swarm’s entire first season is streaming on Prime Video.