The movie, based on Aziah “Zola” Wells' viral Twitter thread, is nothing short of brilliant.
As the relatively-new digital proverb goes, “Every day Twitter has one main character. Aspire not to be them.” And while that's solid advice for a platform where an unmindful tweet can cause strangers to angrily appear in your mentions, sometimes being the main character has its perks. At least this is true for Aziah “Zola” Wells, whose viral 2015 Twitter thread became the greatest stripper saga of the last decade—so great, it's now a movie. The Zola movie, in theaters now.
When Wells wrote that famous 148-tweet thread in October 2015—well before we could create threads seamlessly on the platform—she was mainly trying to chronicle an amusing, if dangerous and almost unbelievable, weekend. The Zola movie tells the autobiographical story of Zola (played by Taylour Paige), a waitress and exotic dancer who embarks on a road trip to Tampa, Florida with a new friend, Stefani (Riley Keough), also a stripper, one day after meeting her. During the weekend, Stefani and Zola face wild challenges, many caused by the former’s violent pimp, X (Colman Domingo). It becomes very clear, very quickly this is not the trip Zola signed up for.
As in the original thread, the Zola movie depicts the freedom, intricacies, and limitations of the sex work industry, the relevancy of social media, and the fragility that can accompany fast-made friends. Opening with an iconic line from the original Twitter thread—“Y'all wanna hear a story about why me and this bitch here fell out?”—Wells found the film’s portrayal of her experience uncanny.
“I was a little taken aback with the accuracy. It kind of felt like I was back there again,” Wells tells Glamour. “And there was a lot of emotion from me because, you know, this was something that really happened.”
But she also thinks the film is an independent entity unto itself. She says watching it has helped her come to terms with the emotions she has about the experience.
“Yes, this happened to me. But now it's, like, a separate piece of art, right?" Wells says. "It's, like, it's own thing now. And now I can watch it and be thoroughly entertained. That's not me. That's Taylour. I think it helps me completely process and heal, too.”
Director Janicza Bravo came onto the project in 2017 and enlisted playwright Jeremy O. Harris to complete the screenplay with her. She says when she read the thread in 2015, she knew it was a story she wanted to tell. The mood, tone, and aesthetic of the film are grandiose, and the characters are intentional caricatures: Zola, an unserious, street-smart but overconfident protagonist; Stefani, untrustworthy and in unadulterated blackface; and X, unscrupulous in deed and desire. They are simultaneously what you imagined and what you couldn’t possibly have imagined.
Contrasted against this is Bravo's use (or lack of use) of sound—a Twitter “ding,” the exaggerated inflection of Paige’s voiceover, and silence that forces you to reckon with the actions depicted. Bravo masterfully rearranges your expectations of Zola; what you might think will be merely goofy, bright, and funny is actually far more potent.
“It's a little bit of candy, and it's a little bit of a ride," Bravo says. "But it's also, like, super stressful and really traumatizing. There's a message here, and there's politics, and you're laughing. And you're asking yourself, ‘Am I okay? And do I treat people well?’ And you probably don't, and that's fine. But walk away from this knowing that about yourself and try to do better.”
With so much packed into this film, Zola will probably leave you a bit confused, if not unfulfilled, wondering if you missed something. And that's the brilliance of it: Now, you'll have to watch it over and over to ensure you have the full story of how, exactly, Zola and that bitch fell out.
Kovie Biakolo is a writer and journalist. Follow her on Twitter @koviebiakolo.
This story originally appeared on: Glamour - Author:Condé Nast