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Hyper-Critical Policing of Chlöe’s Body Bleeds Into Sexist ‘Swarm’ Discourse

Lord 'Have Mercy' make it stop.

Chloe in the "Have Mercy" music video.

Since sister singer-songwriter duo Chloe x Halle‘s careers (seemingly temporarily) diverged into separate paths, there’s been an excess of sexist opinions of Chloe Bailey (a.k.a. Chlöe). While it’s been an issue since the release of her first solo song, “Have Mercy,” the release of the TV series Swarm has brought new lows to the discussion.

Co-created by Janine Nabers and Donald Glover, Swarm is a surreal critique of pop fandoms that go too far and features a new type of anti-hero. Despite the interesting premise, the time since the show’s release has been consumed by a supporting character’s derrière in a single sex scene.

That scene in Swarm

Chloe Bailey and Dominique Fishback in Swarm.
(Amazon Prime Video)

Two minutes into episode one, there’s a short but lingering scene where Marissa (Bailey) and her loser boyfriend Khalid (Damson Idris) have sex. We see this through a crack in the door and mirror reflections. The voyeuristic framing is amplified as we learn Dre (Dominique Fishback) holds eye contact with Khalid—unbeknownst to her BFF Marissa.

One would think that the eerie element would be the point of discussion. Nope, instead, the conversation about that scene has centered around the simple fact that Bailey appears nude. The day the show premiered, a handful of videos spread like wildfire online. One upload on Twitter alone was viewed over 50 million times. Some particularly strange people uploaded the scene to porn sites.

The obsession with the scene garnered two uncomfortable reactions. On one side, there are many people objectifying Bailey and praising Idris. Some of the grossest examples include people bringing up his real-life relationship with Lori Harvey. They’ve framed it as him “getting” both women, despite that Bailey is acting. However, not everyone understood that.

That gets into the second big Discourse™. Many began slut-shaming Bailey for participating in a sex scene. In some instances, people even tagged her. In one deleted tweet, the Twitter user wrote, “No amount of money will ever have me naked getting back shots by some random for a show. Chl0e is different.”

While that tweet was deleted after being dragged to hell and back, many still hold that sentiment. Not that slut-shaming anyone is okay, but everyone criticizing Bailey had nothing to say about Idris. Bailey is one of three people in this scene and not the only one in the nude. In the same breath that people were berating Bailey and calling the decision to play this role “career suicide” and “desperate,” they were bookmarking this video, too. The number of people saving the video to watch later rivaled the nasty comments towards her.

Chloe’s reaction to the sex scene

In an interview with Deadline and HipHollywood, Bailey had nothing but positive things to say about the experience. She said she was very nervous, but that everyone was very accommodating. Bailey explained that the set was closed and Idris did everything he could to help ease the tension: “We were making a joke out of it so it took all 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.”

Helping ease the tension was also the presence of an intimacy coordinator! In fact, journalist Ashley Ray of TV, I Say With Ashley Ray teased that in the upcoming podcast on March 22, they’ll share a conversation with the intimacy coordinator for Swarm.

The way this scene has been the most discussed aspect of the show is disappointing. This scene doesn’t even crack the top five most interesting things involving Marissa in this episode. I can safely say, as someone midway through the series, this scene would be forgettable if people weren’t so weird about it.

This controversy comes two weeks after Sharon Stone revealed that her role in Basic Instinct caused her to lose her child. In a custody battle, the judge (like too many online) also didn’t see the difference between art and real life. He asked her eight-year-old son, “Do you know your mother makes sex movies?” before ultimately limiting her custody. Times may have changed a bit, but this same attitude obviously still persists.

Chloe vs. Chlöe

Across various rated MA and R shows/movies, there’s a number of young women (including Black women) in nude scenes. This instance just got more uproar as part of a continuing trend that began at the start of Bailey’s solo music career. There was a little pushback for Chlöe’s rendition of Feeling Good (from The Roar of the Greasepaint – The Smell of the Crowd, but popularized by Nina Simone) for ABC’s Juneteenth program Together We Triumph — A Soul of a Nation Special. However, it really didn’t solidify until she released her first solo track “Have Mercy,” and then “Treat Me.” The conversation then, and the one bleeding into the moment, is that Chlöe is somehow lesser for showing her body.

In some circumstances, people worried that this was someone pushing this look for Chlöe. In citing her immense talent as a producer, songwriter, vocalist, and instrumentalist, critics said she was “too talented” to show so much skin in what they deemed a degrading manner. Black feminist Kimberly Nicole Foster (a.k.a. For Harriet), put it best when she said that this era of “Bad Bitch” Chlöe is intentional and “paint by the numbers sexuality.”

I wouldn’t say that the lane that Chlöe has chosen to occupy is “desperate.” I would say it’s typical. Chlöe, as a smart artist, is pattern matching. She’s doing what works. Right now, we are inundated everywhere with rehashed stripper aesthetics […] I have a problem with the ubiquity of that aesthetic—not because there’s any issue with sex workers or strippers. Its because that has become the predominant mode of visualizing Black women’s sexuality and there’s so much other stuff to explore!

Whether she is Chlöe or Chloe, Bailey is under a microscope. Despite being a full-grown adult, this backlash has shown the public is still too invested in critiquing how Bailey expresses her sexuality—even when she is playing a character on a TV series.

(featured image: screencap)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3, Apex Legends, and CS:GO. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)