In 2015, A’Ziah “Zola” King wrote a Twitter thread that stretched over 148 tweets and chronicled her whirlwind self-described “hoe-trip.” She and a fellow stripper by the name of Jessica visited Florida along with Jessica’s boyfriend and her pimp. The trip ended with murder, attempted suicide, and thousands of dollars in cash, all of which sparked a viral sensation. Now, in 2021, the story has been adapted into the film “Zola” named after its original author and subject. Starring Taylour Paige from Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom as Zola, Riley Keogh from American Honey (2016), Nicholas Braun from HBO series Succession, and Colman Domingo from Fear the Walking Dead, Zola is set to release on June 30th by indie powerhouse A24. directed and co-written by Janicza Bravo.
Following King’s tweets, the story was picked up by publications like Rolling Stone and The Washington Post which helped the then 20-year-old’s tale gain traction. Eventually gaining the attention of hungry film studios who wanted to turn it into a feature film in the vein of Thelma and Louise (1991), Magic Mike (2012), and Spring Breakers (2012). Drawing a great deal of comparison to Spring Breakers, the film was ironically picked up by that film’s star, James Franco and his Rabbit Bandini Productions company, with the actor set to both direct and produce.
In the aftermath of the #MeToo movement and allegations against Franco, he withdrew, and the film’s future was up in the air until writer and director Janicza Bravo, fresh off of 2017 Sundance and SXSW stalwart Lemon picked it up. Bravo, alongside co-writer Jeremy O. Harris, seems to be the guiding voice that the story was looking for. Bravo became deeply invested in the and dedicated herself to keeping the film as close to King’s original story as possible. King herself was very much involved in the film, with a producing credit and a separate newly minted credit for her written contribution to the film billed as “based on the Tweets by”.
Zola’s tumultuous production was not remedied alone by Bravo’s involvement, as further roadblocks lay ahead for the film. After a 6-week shoot in Tampa, Florida, at the end of 2018, the film premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January of 2020 where it enjoyed a good deal of festival buzz and glowing reviews from Vanity Fair and Hollywood Reporter. THE film looked to light up screens later that year, but 2020 had different plans, and the film had premiered two months before the COVID-19 pandemic began to take full effect, resulting in numerous delays until distributors landed upon the upcoming June 30th release date.
Zola stands as allegedly the first widely released film to be based upon a Twitter thread, a novelty in itself, and joins the ranks of other projects sourced from the internet such as After (2019) and The Kissing Booth (2018) (both originally written on ‘fanfic’ site Wattpad). Zola‘s reviews, spread across its Sundance release in 2020 and its pre-release screenings in 2021, have proven to be one of its driving factors in the continued generation of interest, with critics citing both the lead performances of Paige and Keogh, as well as the strong direction from Bravo, as some of its greatest strengths. In a summer where cinemas are desperate for reasons to bring the viewing public back into their doors, Zola stands as an exciting excuse to return.