Zola gets a new bestie and unwittingly becomes part of ‘The Greatest Stripper Saga ever Tweeted’
Zola is based on an explosive 2015 twitter feed which went viral due to the shocking nature of the story being told. The twitter account belongs to Aziah “Zola” King and the story she revealed had the ‘twitter-verse completely hooked on every shocking, torrid detail. It all began with the now infamous opening line:
“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out????”
Zola is brought to us by the always innovative A24 studios and directed by Janicza Bravo. The film is based on the Rolling Stones article ‘Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted’ by David Kushner. The film very quickly distinguish itself early on by stating it’s based on mostly true events
Zola (Taylour Paige) is a waitress and part time stripper who whilst working at the restaurant, meets and serves a seemingly kindred spirit called Stefani (Riley Keough). The is an immediate spark between the two and it’s the start of a beautiful friendship. Stefani quickly suggests Zola joins her for a weekend roundtrip to Florida, dubbed a ‘Ho-Trip’. The plan is to dance at some new clubs and make some big money.
They are joined by Stefani’s simple minded, lovesick boyfriend Derek (Nicholas Braun) and her ‘roommate’ (Colman Domingo), known only as ‘X’. Zola very quickly finds out things aren’t what they seem and there are significant shifts in the relationships and dynamics between the characters
Zola is described as a Black Comedy but while there are comedic moments, there were no moments I considered funny. The trailer may have given the impression of a wild outrageous weekend in the vein of a film like The Hangover but that is not the case. The film is relatively tame compared to what we might see these days on screen.
The original tweets were shocking, delicious, and delightfully fresh as the Twitter platform was less than 10yrs old at the time and no one had ever been exposed to a true story like this in such an open manner-it was exciting. Six years on and those things have quite possibly lost their shine.
While the sordid story of two strippers and the sex industry might appear titillating, just under the surface is the sad story of manipulation, victimhood and abuse. Watching vulnerable women fall further into a hole of despair doesn’t make fun viewing. But much like a car accident, it’s hard to look away and we are still somehow compelled to watch, despite knowing there is unlikely to be a happy conclusion. Many will wonder why Zola didn’t just walk away but those who have never been victims will not understand the powerlessness vulnerable people can feel, their openness to negative influence and the things they feel they must do to survive.
Director Janicza Bravo does her best to recapture the excitement felt from the original tweets by integrating as much social media as she could into the film. The sound of tweet notifications can be repeatedly heard and many conversations between characters are often short and punchy enough to fit the 148-character limit. The often dream like lighting and camera work enhance the unreal fantasy of the situation.
While most of the music is contemporary hip hop songs typically played in strip clubs, the sound design is occasionally stripped back to its bare bones, giving the feeling of being in a dream sequence where everything might not be real.
See the Official Trailer here
Stripping is sometimes shown on Hollywood screens as a platform where women are empowered and in control, performing incredible acrobatic feats on the pole and owning a stage. The strippers here are very much women who are here out of necessity and limited life options, not any kind of choice. They dream of a rich enough client who might take them away from this life, which further supports the victim tale being told.
Taylour Paige gives an comfortable performance as Zola, her side glances almost at the camera and occasional narration let the audience know she is aware she is falling deeper into a situation she would rather not be part of. Riley Keough pulls off Stefani’s loud, over the top yet extremely vulnerable personality in an entertaining manner. But the best performance belongs to roommate turned Pimp ‘X’ played by Colman Domingo, who manages to convincingly drift effortlessly between comical and menacing
Zola is not what I was expecting and the while the entire truth of the story may be in question, it presents a much more interesting and sympathetic look at the exploitation of vulnerable women and the type of men that exploit them. If Twitter is one day used as a partially accurate record of our history saved in short paragraphs, Zola could almost be a documentary that captured one regular young woman’s terrible moment in time
Zola is in cinema’s now, book tickets here