If you’ve scrolled through Twitter you’ve likely seen people talking about Zola, the film out today by Panamanian-American filmmaker Janicza Bravo. The film stars Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom‘s Taylour Paige as “Zola” and American Honey’s Riley Keough as “Stefani” and was inspired by a wild Twitter thread that went viral in 2015. That’s right, an Afro-Latinx filmmaker is responsible for the first-ever film based entirely on a series of tweets. Not only that, but her work is already being lauded by critics. Zola was nominated for the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize earlier this year, and Janicza has been selected as a Palm Springs International Film Festival’s Director To Watch for 2021. There’s even been some early buzz about a possible Oscar nomination in 2022.
The film chronicles the story of a former stripper from Detroit named Aziah “Zola” King who goes on what ends up being a crazy road trip with a sex worker she meets while she was at work at a Hooters restaurant. Zola decides to travel to Florida with her new friend Stefani, to try to make money on the exotic dancing scene in the Sunshine State. Along the way Zola encounters Stefani’s boyfriend Derrek, and her violent pimp, X. From almost the minute they arrive though, things go south and a series of truly insane events involving sex, murder and human trafficking unfold. It sounds made up, but it’s not.
After Zola’s 148-tweet thread, which has since been deleted, went viral and was dubbed #TheStory, she ended up doing an interview with Rolling Stone that caught the attention of film studio A24, which is responsible for acclaimed movies like Ladybird and Moonlight. They approached her with a deal, eventually bringing on Janicza to helm the project. Janicza, whose projects include Gregory Go Boom, directed the film and wrote the screenplay with the help of Zola’s tweets and fellow filmmaker Jeremy O. Harris.
“She had a very nuanced perspective on how we could tell this story. It’s not a stereotype—there is strategy and finesse and swift thinking and engaged listening in this woman, Zola,” lead actress Taylour Paige told Decider of Janicza’s work earlier this year, also praising actor Belizean-Guatemalan actor Colman Domingo who plays “X” in the film, as a “force.”
The film was originally set to premiere in 2020, but like many movies that year, was delayed by the pandemic. With the film industry slowly getting back on its feet, and most theaters across the country now open for in-person audiences in some capacity, Zola is being released at an interesting time. Most films coming out right now are getting a lot of attention in light of the fact that people have been waiting for their premieres for what seems like forever at this point, and since there is still not a full slate of films being shown in theaters, those that are getting the kind of attention they might not otherwise.
Interestingly, unlike most films that are being released right now, Zola‘s digital release will not be simultaneous with its theatrical release, and there is no word yet on whether it’s been picked up by a streaming service or when it will be available to rent on demand.