Review: A Twitter Tornado Inspires The Unforgettable Story Of ‘Zola’

Directed by Janicza Bravo.
Starring Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo, Nicholas Braun, Ari’el Stachel, Ts Madison, and Jason Mitchell

(Preview Screening Courtesy Of Luna Cinemas Leederville)

“‘Y’all wanna hear a story…’” The famous words that started it all. In October 2015, waitress/stripper Aziah “Zola” King broke the internet with a 148-long Twitter thread that went viral. In the tweet with an exceptional sense of story telling, she described her journey of a work road trip that went wild. The narrative gets wilder with each detail, it’s compelling, thrilling, and with a little bit of humor. Rolling Stone did a report on this Twitter thread, and three years later A24 decided to pick it up and make it into a movie, and “Zola” was born.

“Zola” (played by Taylour Paige) tells the story of a Detroit waitress, who strikes up a new friendship with a customer, Stefani (played by Riley Keough), seduces her to join a weekend of dancing and partying in Florida. What at first seems like a glamorous trip full of “hoeism” rapidly transforms into a 48-hour journey involving a pimp, an idiot boyfriend, some Tampa gangsters and other unexpected adventures in this wild, see-it-to-believe-it tale. The film is a flashback from this opening scene, starting with the day that Zola and Stefani first meet, at the restaurant where Zola is working as a waitress. Stefani invites Zola to revisit her dancing days on a weekend in Florida, promising both fun and cash. But even before they arrive in Tampa, Zola is beginning to regret her decision. She’s trapped in a car with Stefani’s hopeless boyfriend Derrek (played by Nicholas Braun) and what turns out to be her pimp, X (played by Colman Domingo). Soon after the foursome get to Tampa, Zola discovers that the pimp has marketed both her and Stefani online as prostitutes; when Zola declares that she wants no part of it and tries to leave, he threatens her with violence. Under pressure and in the face of danger, Zola discovers a way to liberate Stefani while maintaining her own boundaries, all while trying to break her free from X.

“Zola” focuses on this riotous new buddy pairing, it has enough to fill the duration of the film with cartoonish twists. Janicza Bravo who directed and co-wrote it captures the pair’s kinship through a restless barrage of stylistic devices that express the world of social media in which the entire story takes place. At the beginning of the film when you think you’ll be annoyed by Stefani’s vocabulary, Bravo does enough to contain it. Keough I have to say gives a career-best performance, especially when it comes to appropriating black culture. Her character Stefani is racist, as well as dishonest, but thanks to Keough, she’s never one-dimensional. Even at her nastiest, Stefani is too magnetic to hate. Taylour Paige is the center of the film, and she holds it with a powerful sense of her own worth and throughout the duration remains sane, despite the lunacy of everyone around her. Paige is a joy to watch, as she commands the screen with a sense of strong confidence.

Like 2019’s Hustlers, “Zola” shines a light on female sex workers, who are so often misrepresented and/or marginalised in film. It may have taken several years to shift from tweet to screen, but it’s well worth the wait.

Zola will be at Luna Leederville and select cinemas Thu 18 Nov.

Written By: Neill Frazer

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