(Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images for IMDb)
On October 27th, 2015, the Twitter handle @_zolarmoon tweeted,”‘Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this b—h here fell out?”, and over the course of a 144-tweet thread, she went on to recount all the crime, sex, and betrayal of an epic “hoe-trip” down to Florida. Though the thread’s author, A’Ziah “Zola” King, couldn’t have known it when she started tweeting, the film derived from her adventures is a Certified Fresh hit with critics and audiences birthed and cultivated for the internet generation. Five years since the tweet first gained prominence and 18 months since the film’s Sundance debut, the world finally got to join in on the fun and giggle at the awkward and anxious tale.
Adapted by director Janicza Bravo and Slave Play scribe Jeremy O. Harris, Zola stars Taylour Paige as the eponymous tweeter and Riley Keough as her clear-heeled stripping companion. More than just a road trip comedy, the film also serves as a cautionary tale about the dangers of sex work. Before it was set to hit theaters, the woman who started it all spoke to Rotten Tomatoes about her favorite movies, having to meet the actress who would play her on screen, and what stories she might have in mind next.
When I think about why I like it, I think it’s the director’s standpoint. I like the lighting. I love that the intro… It’s amazing. I love Kesha. I would watch it to be just like Kesha. And the story in itself is really well told, and it was, like I said, the directing for me, the lights, the mood, the entire film is like every scene in Belly. And it was shot like the poster. Every scene, you can hang it up, and it’s there. It’s just a whole story. I love Belly.
Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003)
Yes. It’s Kill Bill for sure.
Rotten Tomatoes: Do you want to choose one volume or go with The Whole Bloody Affair?
I have to combine them together because I can’t watch the first one without the second one. I love the Bride and Vernita Green. What also attracts me is the girl power. I’m here for a woman coming with a vengeance to avenge her wrongs. I love that. And she’s kind of like a superhero. I’ve always liked badass women. My favorite scene is when she finally had caught up with Lucy. The Bride finally caught up with her, and when she was fighting the whole room of like 200, 300 people and she was doing this move, or she’s like spinning on her back on the floor. That is my favorite.
Gone With the Wind (1939)
I love that movie. I also like the classics. I think I’m just like a theatrical kind of person, so it’s probably the theatrics. I like the costumes. I like the way they talk the closing line. Like, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn!” Yeah, I like the drama of it.
The Players Club (1998)
My mom made me watch it a million times, and that’s going to be The Players Club. I love it. Clearly, I relate to it. Clearly, I get them. But beyond that, the comedy in The Players Club is unbeatable. There are so many one-liners that I find myself saying that I’ll be like, “There’s going to be trouble” to this day. I use Players Club lines all the time, so yeah.
Rotten Tomatoes: As a former exotic dancer, how do you rate it? Very authentic or not so much?
It is actually very; I think that the movie came out for the time period, it was very on brand, for what the girls were going through. Absolutely.
Rotten Tomatoes: Have you seen P-Valley?
I have not, and people keep telling me I need to. I have not.
She's Gotta Have It (1986)
One of the main reasons l liked it was the character played by Spike Lee – Mars Blackmon. He was my favorite character. He was so funny, so hilarious with anything he was saying. I don’t have a specific quote, but anything he said cracked me up. I also really relate to Nola, sexuality-wise, being a black woman discovering her sexuality. So that movie resonated with me a lot, and the remake — I think it’s a series? I loved that just as much. And from a sexuality standpoint, as far as being a young black woman, finding yourself, writing your own rules when it comes to dating, I’m like, “Yeah, that’s me.”
(Photo by Anna Kooris courtesy Sundance Institute)
Jacqueline Coley for Rotten Tomatoes: You — and the internet — have been waiting so long for this movie to come out. But now that it is coming out, where do you want to go next? Got some new stories in mind?
King: I’ve always been a writer. It’s just how I process my trauma. Once I write something down, and I got it on paper, I feel like I can then move on. Like, that’s my step one. So I hope to keep writing. I mean, I have a million other stories. I always say, like, if you guys think this was something, “You see what I did last weekend?” I always have something going on, and I guess I have a niche for storytelling. That’s just how I talk, though. I tell a story the way that I would talk to my homegirl. So hopefully, I just keep at it. I have so many experiences that I could share. I worked in sex work for four or five years. I’ve met some very interesting characters who I think I’m definitely willing to talk about and piggyback off of this for sure.
Rotten Tomatoes: We will be waiting and ready to read it when you do. For Zola, it has to be so weird to know someone is playing “you.” How did you get to know Taylour, and how much time did you spend with her, because that’s such an intimate thing.
King: Absolutely. I was saying earlier, it was kind of a manifestation thing, because I had my eyes set on her before I knew anything. I had my eyes set on her before she even knew that I had that thought. So when it happened, I understood I could trust them, because we had all been kind of fighting towards the same goal. By the time we met at Sundance, we had got really, really close, just talking all the time. She wanted to really get a feel. Do you know what I mean? And Taylour is so sweet. She actually wanted my blessing, in a way. I’m like, “Girl, you got it!” We talked all the time. She wanted to see my facial expressions. So we had a lot of the late-night zooms, because she just really wanted to do it justice. And I think she did her due diligence. She’s me. She did it.
Zola is now playing in select theaters.
Thumbnail images by Everett Collection, Miramax Films, (c) Island Pictures/courtesy Everett Collection