The term “adapted screenplay” refers to films inspired by novels, plays or musicals. “Zola” is a sparkling step in the evolution of the adapted script: it is a film adapted from tweets.
In 2015, Detroit waitress A’ziah “Zola” King took to Twitter to tell the true story of a Florida weekend gone wrong in the simplest possible words. and 148 tweets. King had joined a trio of strangers – exotic dancer Jessica, Jessica Jarrett’s boyfriend and her mysterious “roommate” named Z – with the intention of heading to Tampa for a few days to dance at strip clubs. , where they would earn more money than they could. in Detroit. From there, the story escalates into prostitution, murder and attempted suicide by the pool, the wild 140-character entries all punctuated by King’s direct, sharp voice and the occasional emoji.
“You all wanna hear a story about why me and this bitch here stumbled across ??????? ? Read her first tweet, referring to herself and Jessica, renamed Stefani in the film adaptation. “It’s a bit long but full of suspense.”
Her thread went viral, catching the attention of Missy Elliot, Rolling stone and millions of social media users, so much so that director and screenwriter Janicza Bravo saw potential in this bustling corner of the internet for the must-see summer that “Zola” has become. Thus, “Zola” was born, starting production in 2018 and hitting theaters on June 30 after a pandemic-induced delay.
The appeal of the original Twitter feed lay in its quality of utter surrealism – every entry King added made the scorching Florida odyssey all the more intriguing. If a friend came up to you and told you Zola’s story, you would probably dismiss it as fictional because there just isn’t any way it could all be true. Yet Zola’s story is just as real as it is absurd and absurd to the average Twitter scroller.
Bravo’s Herculean task was to maintain the feverish appeal of the source material while translating it visually and tonally onto the silver screen, without crossing the line of implausibility. It’s a fine line to walk, but “Zola” does it well. It is one of the few films to capture the online experience in an aesthetic yet precise way.
For example, to mimic the voice in your head reading your texts, Zola and Stefani read the texts aloud with monotonous voices while the camera frames them looking at their phones. To nod to the ever-curated and interpreted narratives we project on social media, the film takes a short break from Zola’s perspective, and instead Stefani tells his side of the story, painting the same. events in a very different light.
Notification bells cut off the dialogue and “like” hearts appear from time to time in the center of the screen. Out of the ordinary hilarious scene shows Zola zoning out – while Stefani is unconscious and surrounded by gunmen – like the all-too-familiar macOS screensaver fills the screen for one, two, three beats. Zola comes back to his reality as we return to the film, again cleverly inserting the viewer into Zola’s individual narrative and reiterating the digital nature of it all.
On a more poignant note, “Zola” highlights the dangers of social media and the frightening pervasiveness of sex trafficking. The film’s final act, which is roughly 15 minutes too short to give audiences a sense of completeness, is tense and bewildering as Zola tries to extricate herself from the sticky situation Stefani had brought her into.
Still, there’s something soberly refreshing about centering the story of a black stripper without condemning her, having her saved, or doomed her character to a moral awakening. She is allowed to exist in history as it is, rather than as an ambitious model of perfect morality. Characters like Zola are far too rarely treated as characters deserving of empathy and audience support.
Each of the film’s four protagonists is dazzling: Zola herself is played by Taylour Paige, who bears a striking resemblance to the real Zola; Nicholas Braun from “Succession” makes his best impression of Pete Davidson as dumb boyfriend Derrek; Colman Domingo delivers an impressive yet terrifying performance as Stefani’s pimp named X and Riley Keough play the notorious Stefani herself, boisterous and vulgar and sporting the most painful intentional blaccent in the world. Beyond being a comedy of errors, “Zola” is a viciously sharp example of how whites co-opt the dark to their own advantage, and Stefani sits at the center.
The film exists in a space between neon glitter, chewing gum and sex jokes, and the very real and scary constant threats to the characters’ lives. Danger could come after any stage transition, and that juxtaposition of horror and hilarity is all for “Zola” – that’s how they keep their audience engaged. The Steamy Girls’ Trip to Florida has been done and remade (including A24’s own “Spring Breakers”), just like the real crime documentary. “Zola” positions himself at the corner of the two, beckoning fans from both tropes and capitalizing on the appeal of this intersection.
“Zola” is a disastrous film in film form – you can’t bring yourself to look away because it turns into absurdity, but at the same time, you know you want to keep watching.