“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” Aziah “Zola” Wells 2015
Think “Hustler” , “The Florida Project” add two strippers and a lengthy twitter thread and you have the premise of this Sundance Film Festival adaption by writer-Director Janicza Bravo and Tony-nominated playwright Jeremy O. Harris. The story of Zola (Taylour Paige), a Detroit waitress opens with an interaction with Stefani (Riley Keough. The two bond over exotic dancing and at the promise of fast money set out on a road trip the next day.
This trip turns from stripping to sex worker to sexual assault to slave play all within what seems like a matter of minutes. Stefani's pimp, X (Colman Domingo) and hapless boyfriend, Derrek (Nicholas Braun) are intertwined in this crazy time. It's a real story that is plain wild told from two points of view based on the original 148-tweet thread.
The approach to telling so many embedded stories was filled with frenetic energy. Questioning sound beliefs on sex trafficking, police brutality and even the legacy of the confederacy without uttering a single word at times. It was as if multiple directors collaborated effortless to entice every sense of emotion collectively. Effectively leveraging camera distance and lighting to create powerful shadows of euphoria. Digging deep into the world of exotic dancing to understand the humanity of a praying woman. We all want different things in life, and this film examined our primal urges that drive our conscious decisions.
We are driven by love, money and/or fear. That is the current human condition that Zola, a black woman, sought to examine from different perspectives. How strong is love? What would you do for money? What can trap you into obeying the wrong voices? Encapsulating moments of pause at important decision points to allow you momentarily to consider your own reaction or approach is what made the film stand out differently. You won't be able to leave this movie without an opinion.
1) Is there a point when someone can escape being a sex traffic victim?
2) How strong is love, when love is all you have in this world?
3) What is your price to do whatever someone else wants you to do?
WHAT in the WHAT?
The only initial response I could utter was “What in the what, did I just see?” I was absolutely drawn into the story line initially, but it was hard to focus with the intended comedy that had multiple moments of darkness as if a hurricane ravaged my mind. I wanted to either laugh or simply understand the struggle, but it was just too easy to see the whole story was in trouble.
It was hard to understand if Zola or Stefani were truly trapped or if money truly makes you do undesirable things. I wanted each of the victims to run away with their multiple opportunities to escape. Yet it seemed like they stayed so that they could have movie credits at the end. How could X have such a powerful hold on all of them.
I wanted to truly believe in the characters, but at times it felt like the need for cinematography took precedence on the power of the character. Although true film enthusiasts could dig deep into the positive and negative attributes of rolling center shots of objects and events. I just wanted to be entertained on an emotional level. I wanted to laugh more in the playful moments. I wanted to shed a tear at human suffering. Hard to believe that this movie was the result of social media.
Zola opens in theaters Wednesday, June 30th
Running time: 87 MIN
I rate the movie 3 out of 5 pumps. I loved the messages of self-respect, owning your wealth and female empowermentTomikaTalks
Director | Janicza Bravo
Writers | Janicza Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris
Based on Tweets by | A’Ziah-Monae “Zola” King
Based on the Article by | David Kushner, “Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted”
Producers | Christine Vachon, David Hinojosa, Gia Walsh, Kara Baker, Vince Jolivette, Elizabeth Haggard, Dave Franco
Cast | Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Ari'el Stachel, Colman Domingo