By: Amanda Guarragi
“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out?
It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”
What may have started out as a Twitter thread, turned into a film that definitely suits A24s library, and has a positive perception on sex work. For those who weren’t on Twitter when @_zolarmoon’s story dropped, this movie does do her story justice. Newcomer Taylour Paige is Zola, a Detroit waitress who strikes up a new friendship with a customer named Stefani (Riley Keough). She seduces her to join a weekend of dancing and partying in Florida. To Zola, it appears to be a glamorous trip full of “hoeism” but it then transforms into a 48-hour journey involving a nameless pimp (Colman Domingo), an idiot boyfriend (Nicholas Braun), and some unexpected Tampa gangsters.
Zola is a true story and that is what makes this rollercoaster of a journey interesting. If you have read the thread – like I have – then lower your expectations going into this film. But if you haven’t, and you are going in blind, then you will be in for a treat. On that one night, where the thread went viral, @_zolarmoon’s voice was definitely heard in those tweets, unfortunately that is one thing that should have translated to the film. Her voice made the thread what it was, the level of storytelling through that thread did not make it to the film. The one thing that did work, when involving her tweets in the film, was the actual sound cue of a tweet being sent. I caught on about halfway through, but it worked.
Janicza Bravo’s direction was unique, and her vision to have sex workers painted positively, made me enjoy the film even more. She captured the bodies of women in a different way and explored their athleticism when working. Bravo really focused on showing how women view men in any situation, but specifically in sexual situations. She did not glamorize any of it, whether it was stripping or actual sex work, she showed the reality of it and I respected that. The stars of the film Taylour Paige and Riley Keough brought so much to their roles and played off each other. Keough was more outspoken, loud, and straight up irritating, while Paige was more reserved and her expressions truly said it all.
Zola is a slow burn that has colourful characters to drive the narrative home. There are some sequences that are beautifully shot and that highlight female bodies in the proper way. It feels like a never-ending journey because of all the obstacles they face. It is very eye-opening to see how women are treated and how women treat each other. You will be fully immersed and feel like you are on this road trip with them. The soundtrack will have you bumping with them as they drive to Tampa and there are moments that will keep you frozen in your spot as you watch the scenes unfold. It is interesting to see Keough and Paige deliver two very different performances but still manage to work off each other so well.