‘Zola’ is a comedy-drama film about the harrowing story of a young waitress from Detroit who gets lured in by a friend she just met into a 2-day road trip across Florida to earn some cash by stripping. The film is directed by Janicza Bravo (‘Them‘), who also penned the screenplay along with Jeremy O. Harris. It stars Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, and Colman Domingo in the lead roles.
If you watched the movie and found the movie’s portrayal of themes such as female friendships, social media, prostitution, etc., too close to reality, you must be wondering about the inspirations behind this enthralling tale of suspense and drama. We also got curious and investigated whether or not ‘Zola’ is inspired by any real events or true stories. Here’s everything we learned in that regard!
Is Zola Based on a True Story?
Yes, ‘Zola’ is based on a true story. The film is based on the real experiences of one Aziah “Zola” Wells. In 2015, Zola made a series of sensational tweets using #TheStory. These tweets revealed the story of her friendship with a woman and their eventual fallout while exposing some dark memories of her trip to Florida. Zola’s tweets went viral on social media. The sensational aspects of the story also gained mainstream media attention, and reporter David Kushner wrote an article based on Zola’s account of events that was published in Rolling Stone in November 2015.
The original 148 tweets and Kushner’s article served as a starting point for the film’s story. As per the article, Zola met Jessica at her workplace — Hooters. The two women bonded over their shared affection for pole dancing and exchanged numbers. A few days later, Zola agreed to a road trip to Tampa, Florida, with Jessica, her boyfriend, Jarrett, and Jessica’s violent pimp, Rudy, aka “Z.”
On her first night in Tampa, Zola quickly realized that Z was pimping Jessica and wanted to do the same with Zola. Nevertheless, Zola stayed with the group for fear of something happening to Jessica. Zola, Jessica, and Jarrett all provided different accounts of the following night to Kushner. However, all three agreed that Z mistreated, abused, and extorted Jessica. Zola also admitted to leaving out certain elements of the story. Nonetheless, all accounts are equally thrilling, suspenseful and add a layer of mystery that the film thrives upon.
Zola’s opening tweet is transformed into a neat voice-over in the film that gets the ball rolling. Some other tweets are also used as dialogue or exposition in the film. The names of the rest of the group are changed from Jessica, Jarrett, and Z to Stefani, Derrek, and X. The movie remains largely close to Zola’s original tweets both in narrative and spirit. It also puts in a lot of work to explain how these two women, who are fundamentally different, bond with each other. However, the movie ends slightly early and does not cover Zola’s last batch of tweets, where she revealed that Z was caught for sex trafficking and sentenced to life imprisonment.
In an interview, director Janicza Bravo revealed that she first came across the Twitter thread in 2015 and was immediately enamored by the story. “I was adapting the source material. If I were adapting Chekhov, August Wilson, Lorraine Hansberry, I wouldn’t be asking a question of facts. I would be treating the material like it was (a) sacred text. And so that’s what I did here. The material was the sacred text, and it was true because it was true,” Bravo told ET about her approach to adapting Zola’s story.
Like the original tweets, it is clear that the director is trying to start a conversation. Ultimately, ‘Zola’ is a moving and eye-opening film about mature subjects such as sex trafficking that is palatable to those who perhaps found Zola’s original tweets a bit too raw. Bravo’s razzle-dazzle-filled and larger-than-life recreation of Zola’s true story is not just a glamorous Hollywood rendition but adds subtle context about race and culture difference by creating various parallels between Zola and Stefani.
Read More: Where Was Zola Filmed?