On October 27, 2015, the account @zolarmoon tweeted: "Y'all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out?", alongside several images of two girls posing together. As opening lines go, that's up there with "A screaming comes across the sky" and "Call me Ishmael". The subsequent 148-post viral Twitter thread, which documented a journey from Detroit to Florida, is the inspiration behind the new film from A24, Zola.
The story starts when Aziah Wells, a stripper who goes by the name Zola, met Jessica Rae Swiatkowski, a blonde bisexual dancer, while she was waiting tables at a branch of Hooters in Detroit. The pair exchanged numbers after discovering they were both dancers, and a few days later Jessica texted Zola asking if she wanted to come to Florida to dance with her.
After convincing her boyfriend to let her go, Zola packed her 'baddest stripper wear' (French maid and schoolgirl outfits, and 10-inch stilettos with heels of rhinestone-covered pistols) and climbed into the car with Jessica, her boyfriend Jarrett and her violent pimp, referred to as “Z”.
After earning $800 at a club, Zola wanted to leave. But Jessica, having made nothing, has other ideas, and the pair ended up at a fancy hotel which Z has driven them to in order to turn tricks for his clients. Jessica begged her to stay, saying that she was frightened to go alone, and Zola, after realising she's earning nothing through her pimp, posts photos and a new advert of her online with a $500 minimum.
Things take a bad turn when Jessica's boyfriend, enraged at what she's doing, turns up and starts a fight with her and Z, whose fiancée has now arrived too, which ends in a surreal twist. Next Jessica is seemingly kidnapped then found tied up, Z shoots someone in the face, Jarret jumps off a balcony as he tries to stop Jessica turning tricks with a black eye. A sex trafficking ring getting busted provides the perfect end to this Tarantino-esque story.
The story captivated Twitter, attracting the interest of Missy Elliott and Solange Knowles, with When They See Us director Ava DuVernay commenting: “Drama, humour, action, suspense, character development. There’s so much untapped talent in the hood.”
“I’m not from the hood tho Ava,” Zola replied. “Ima suburban bitch. Still love you tho”
Some have questioned whether some aspects of the story line up but the A24 film, which stars Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Ari'el Stachel and Colman Domingo, and has changed characters' names, is about bringing the chaos and suspense at the heart of the jaw-dropping tale to life.
Because even if some parts are exaggerated, as Zola later conceded when discussing the thread, it's a hell of a good story.
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