Zola (2021)



“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”

“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”



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The following is a recounted story consisting of a 148-tweet thread of actual events, mostly an accurate account. The result of said Twitter thread is a story so unimaginable that the thought of it being true is what legends are made of. Tall tales and ghosts’ stories told around campfires or in generation Z’s case, told over bathing blue lights at the mall on a Friday night. Zola is a shocking true story that must be seen to be believed. Reading the thread is not enough, the enigma surrounding this weekend of tricks, dancing, pimps, kidnapping, murder, and attempted suicide is a true story according to one of the parties involved, or should I say tricked into it.  

The premise alone makes Zola a film to be attracted to, it’s what makes great thrillers, great thrillers. It’s enticing from the opening line spoken by Aziah “Zola” King (Taylor Paige) about how her and a new “friend” fell out after a “hoe” trip to Florida that Stefani (Riley Keough) roped Zola into. What Zola doesn’t know the kind of people Stefani is involved with that also will be attending this trip. Stefani’s roommate X (Colman Domingo) and her boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun). 

Every new piece of information that Janicza Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris (co-screenwriters) give out whether it’s a small detail or a new plot point is equivalent to a domino being tipped over from an intricate design. Once the car is packed and Zola is on board, its pure chaos where literally anything can happen – expect the unexpected. I’ve never encountered a film based on a viral Twitter thread before, it’s likely the first, but won’t be the last after how the film version came together but what Bravo does as the director is capture the social media spirit. Every five seconds or so a notification or a tweet sound goes off as if we are hearing Zola live tweet the events in real time while the mess of a weekend plays out before our very eyes. Added to that is Zola narrating direct lines from the thread which adds an authenticity to it all. What better way to stay as close to the source material than that?

Zola is full of energy and anticipation. As unbelievable as the events that play out are, Bravo builds that anticipation to see what comes next in 5 minutes or an hour from where the characters end up. Whats going to happen next? Every scene has a cliffhanger to it, it keeps your interest regardless of if we don’t agree with the actions taking place on screen. Everything Zola feels, resonates to the viewer – all her nonplussed, confused, angry, happy looks to the situation is exactly how we all feel watching this. I almost expected her to have a break the fourth wall moment whenever she’s on screen because it’s that extreme. And there are those moments throughout, giving Zola a personal touch to the final product. 

There is something euphoric about watching catastrophic people erupt, it’s difficult to explain, maybe because as a viewer being dragged into a situation like this would never happen so the escapism of it all is easier to digest. Knowing that this chain of events is real including the people involved, to a degree, is both troubling yet captivating simultaneously. For that alone Bravo does the best job any director could do in retelling this bizarre story.


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The tone for Zola is set immediately within the first few scenes and is amplified when the quartet jam out to ‘Hannah Montana’ by Migos. Taylor and Riley are electric together through their chemistry. Every emotion is portrayed perfectly from Taylor and that frustration and fear is amplified from Riley’s culturally appropriated performance. At times the performance by Riley leans more on the extreme side of cultural appropriation but it’s balanced by Colman Domingo’s quiet fury or Nicholas’s comedic relief. Let’s face it, for the danger that X ad Stefani put Zola in Derrek is basically there to add some levity to the room, whichever room that may be. In his performance, besides Zola, Derrek is the most sympathetic character. Hes used as a doormat by X and Stefani doesn’t respect him whatsoever. If anyone deserves better, its Derrek.

I don’t know whats worse – watching the awkward encounters during the sex work scenes of seeing many men with their bare genitalia out and hearing the painful silence between Stefani and said men or watching Derrek slip into depression because of the way he’s being treated to the point where he commits suicide. Regardless of how awkward and panic inducing Zola is, when Colman Domingo stylistically switches accents when he’s pissed, that anxiety on Zola’s face says it all.

Zola is a series of unfortunate events that you want to ignore and blow off but can’t because of the need to see how this weekend ends up. Just like with every scene that leaves on a cliffhanger, the film itself doesn’t give a sense of finality to its story. Things are open ended and Bravo tries to parody the actual film with the Reddit thread of Stefani who claimed things went in a different direction. Even in her own accounting of the story she has the cultural appropriation accent. Why not change it completely to show yourself as a victim.

Zola is written by Janicza Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris, directed by Janicza Bravo is Rated R and has an 87% on Rotten Tomatoes. Zola was released on June 30, 2021 in the United States and has a runtime of 1 hour and 30 minutes. Zola is currently in theaters 3.5 out of 5.


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