Michael Jackson references in Swarm

Everyone who has seen Swarm has immediately picked up on the similarities between Beyonce and Ni’jah, the icon who captivates the show’s antihero, Dre, played by Dominique Fishback. But has anyone else noticed the show’s Michael Jackson fixation?

The show, from Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, is subtle about its fascination with the self-styled King of Pop, but the fascination is there if you look. Swarm cast Jackson’s daughter, Paris Jackson, in its second episode, “Honey,” and Episode 6 features footage from Jackson’s actual 2005 criminal trial, in which he was found not guilty of molesting two boys.

Swarm and the Michael Jackson Trial

Didn’t catch that? Watch Episode 6 again. The Episode is called “Fallin’ Through the Cracks,” and takes its name from a fake docuseries called Falling Through the Cracks that is focused on the supposedly true story of Andrea Green, the real-life inspiration for Dre. (The show within a show within a show playfully distorts our perception of Swarm and reality itself.)

You can listen to us talk about Swarm, Beyonce, Michael Jackson and more in the latest Low Key podcast, available wherever you get your podcasts, and right here on Spotify:

At the 20-second mark, we see an image of Diane Dimond, a former Hard Copy reporter who, in 1993, reported accusations of an inappropriate relationship between Jackson and a young boy that led Jackson to pay millions to the boy’s family.

In 2005, Dimond was working for Court TV, and covered the molestation trial, which involved two different boys than the one involved in the 1993 allegations. Dimond was very open about her belief that Jackson was guilty, which made her a despised figure among the Jackson fans who showed up outside the courthouse to support him through the months-long trial.

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As we briefly see Diane Dimond on Swarm, a voiceover intones, “One fan has been so abusive to this reporter that she’s obtained a court restraining order.”

It’s a weird moment in Swarm, since no court case is taking place during the show, involving Ny’jah or Dre. It becomes more clear that the footage is from the real Jackson trial when we see a shot of fans outside the court, one of whom holds a sign that says “Poland Loves You Michael.”

Another fan holds a sign that says “Peter Pan Rules,” a reference to Jackson’s fixation with Peter Pan. (A statue of Peter Pan graced the gates of Jackson’s home, Neverland, the name of which was itself a Peter Pan reference. And Jackson once told an interviewer, British journalist Martin Bashir, “I am Peter Pan.”)

Second later on Swarm, we see another sign from a fan that says “Bashir is the root of all evil.” This will make no sense in the context of Dre and Ny’jah, but will be very familiar to people who followed the 2005 Michael Jackson trial: The case was sparked by Jackson telling Bashir that he had a habit of letting boys sleep in his bed with him.

Donald Glover has made no secret of his Jackson fascination, telling The Village Voice in 2011, “If one day, I can be a neo–Michael Jackson, I want that. I don’t know if it is possible for someone to be that big anymore. But I want that.”

He also famously played a Michael Jackson-like figure in the mesmerizing “Teddy Perkins” episode of his FX series Atlanta.

So did the Prime Video cast Paris Jackson because Donald Glover is fascinated by her dad? Not necessarily.

Nabers told Variety that casting director Carmen Cuba pitched Paris Jackson for the role of a stripped named Halsey and “we all like fell out. We were like, ‘Exactly. That’s exactly what we’re talking about.'”

Nabers added: Paris was great. She’s a professional. She came in and asked all the right questions. I’m a Jewish woman, she’s identifies as Jewish, so we bonded about that. And she trusted us.”

She added that Paris Jackson “really just owned it this character of a light-passing biracial woman who is really intent on letting everyone know about her Blackness.” (On the show, Halsey presents as white but says she has a Black grandparent.)

Here’s the trailer for Swarm:

Swarm is now streaming on Prime Video.