Premiered at Sundance on Saturday, we break down Janicza Bravo’s hellish reimagining of the 2015 viral Twitter thread
If you don’t already know the story of Zola, it goes like this: In 2015, a young woman called Aziah “Zola” Wells went viral on Twitter after she posted a thread of 148 tweets detailing a trip to Florida with a stripper, a pimp, and her boyfriend that quickly decends into a hellish weekend of sex, murder, and near-suicide.
Understandably, the story was snapped up by A24, which debuted the film adaptation on Saturday at Sundance, featuring Taylor Paige in the titular role, and Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, and Colman Domingo as the rest of the ill-fated foursome. As we wait for a wider release, here’s all the reasons to snap up the cinema tickets in advance.
IT’S BASED ON A VIRAL TWITTER THREAD
Aziah Wells King’s twitter thread went viral in 2015 after she posted an autobiographical detailing of a wild ride from Detroit to Tampa, Florida, to make money as a stripper. The thread began with the now-infamous opener – “You wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out?” – and continues for 148 wildly entertaining tweets. You can find the full story here.
JANICZA BRAVO IS DIRECTING IT
Best known for writing and directing Beyonce’s Lemonade, Zola is Bravo’s second feature film, and promises the same Lynchian weirdness and infectious humour as 2017’s Lemon. The film has been hailed for its black female gaze, and Bravo, a black woman, collaborates with queer, black male writer Jeremy O’Harris, best known for his Broadway game-changer Slave Play. Together, the pair’s script conveys an effortless humour, and its characters, a three-dimensional humanity.
JAMES FRANCO ISN’T DIRECTING IT
Disgraced actor James Franco’s company Rabbit Bandini originally purchased the rights to the story, before stepping down from the project. Presumably the actor realised that his reputation as a Hollywood creep who sexually assaults his female students wouldn’t sit well in a film about two women. Wise move.
IT’S SCORED BY MICA LEVI
That’s right, Mica Levi, the avant-garde composer behind Monos, Jackie, and Under the Skin, has scored Zola. The 32-year-old is well-seasoned in soundtracking tense and chaotic plotlines, and if her atmospheric body of work is anything to go by, we’re in safe hands.
THE CRITICS CALL IT A “FUCKED UP FAIRY TALE”
Since its debut at Sundance on Saturday, the reviews have been pouring in, with many highlighting Bravo’s unusual directorial choices. The Guardian says: “What keeps us glued during the first act isn’t just Zola’s sensationalist story but Bravo’s unexpected directorial choices. There’s inevitable grit but she chooses magical over social realism, framing the story like a fucked up fairy tale complete with a dreamy Mica Levi score, punctuated by the sounds of Twitter.”
Elsewhere, the Los Angeles Times calls it “a persuasive argument and an apt foundation for a buddy comedy with a sociopolitical sting in its tail”. Vanity Fair agrees: “The world of Bravo’s film is no fictionalized, seedily appealing underbelly. It’s simply America: often frightful, sometimes grimly amusing, and ever rattling along in its entropy.”