On October 27, 2015, A’ziah “Zola” King tweeted: “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense”
And she wasn’t lying—mostly.
In a thread of 148 tweets, King regaled the internet with an epic tale of what was supposed to be a quick trip to Florida to strip with her new “friend” but immediately devolved into a chaotic odyssey of kidnapping, guns, a suicide attempt, and sex work.
King later admitted to embellishing parts of the story but insists the core of her saga is true. Regardless, what became known as #TheStory had the kind of impact and entertainment value that could grip an audience that, at the time, happened to include the likes of Ava DuVernay, Solange, and Missy Elliott, who all chimed in with their praise.
Now King is reaching an even wider audience with Zola, which debuts on June 30.
Directed by Janicza Bravo, Zola marks the first feature film adapted from a Twitter thread. In a way it’s an experiment with intellectual property: Can a film accurately capture the energy, tone, and perspective of what was likely meant to be internet ephemera? The answer is yes—but only in the right hands.
Not long after King’s tweets caught fire, producers swooped in. Actor and director James Franco won out and was set to helm the film version, with Andrew Neel and Mike Roberts attached as screenwriters. However, following sexual misconduct allegations, Franco and his team stepped down, and Bravo and screenwriter and playwright Jeremy O. Harris stepped in.
From what actor Taylour Paige who plays Zola says, that made all the difference for her.
Paige explains how important it was for Bravo and Harris to take over the project, her definition of “hoeism,” and the lasting impact making Zola had on her.
Fast Company: What made you say yes to Zola?
Taylour Paige: In 2017, when I first got the script that was written by two white guys, the description was “based on the epic Twitter [thread].” I Googled the tweets and I was like, “Oh wow.” I’ve been on Twitter for a long time, but I’ve always just posted random, positive shit. It’s a random log in, and I log out. I never was someone who really scrolled like that. But when I read it, the script that I had didn’t reflect what I felt. I could hear [King’s] voice. That’s my cousin. That’s my sister. I know her. That [script] was some shit someone tried to create. And no shade to them. It’s not about that. It just was obvious that [wasn’t] the same voice.
So how was it for you having not only a Black screenwriter but also a Black woman as the director helming this story of another Black woman?
So divine. And so, like, because of your care, because you go through the world of Black women, there is just a very special kind of care and consideration and a standing up to people who are going to try to test you or try to rush you or not give you what you deserve. It made all the difference.
Once you were on board, what did you do to prepare? How did you find your version of Zola?
Talking to her. I worked at a strip club for four weeks—just all my experiences. I think life is curriculum. It prepares you. Being so caught up in perfectionism and being in these weird acting classes with people who would project their shit on you, I stopped that. Honestly, my life started to be my acting classes: talking to people, observing people, sitting in a coffee shop. This is a woman that goes on a road trip. So how do we do that honestly? How do we tell the truth?
To me, what made the tweets and subsequently this film so endearing is how much we’re rooting for Zola. Here’s this woman who, through no fault of her own, winds up in an impossible situation and is just trying to find her way out. What was your connection to the story?
First of all, [King] processed her trauma in a really funny, brilliant way. And because of her experience and the way she was able to write about it, I’m here doing press with you talking about it. From a macro level, [the message is] believe in yourself, believe in your voice, because it might turn into a movie or a book or an adaptation. But also it’s also believing Black women, Black women mattering. It’s a celebration of a Black female director taking care of this Black woman’s story and making sure that it’s protected and it’s highlighted in a way that doesn’t continue these tropes and typical shit people feel comfortable continuing. This isn’t a stripper movie. That’s an element. But this is about the world we live in, the country we live in, agency of women’s bodies. It’s all of that.
How would you define what Zola truly is about?
It’s about a friendship that goes south. It’s betrayal. It’s two young people figuring it out. It is sex working, but it’s also agency and male toxicity. It’s satirical of the society we live in America and how people are figuring it out. Earth school is hard as hell. Everyone’s just doing their best.
Exactly. I love that Janicza leaned into that instant connection Zola had with Stefani (Riley Keough). It really felt like a love story in a way.
That’s how Janicza interpreted ‘we’re vibing over our hoeism or whatever’ and that’s what it is. People get so caught up in semantics and get so literal, but hoeism doesn’t even have to mean hoe in that way. Hoeism is like, I’m unapologetic. I do what I want with my body. I move here. I move there. It’s a mentality. It’s an idea more than what you do in the bedroom.
What impact do you think playing a role like this has had on you?
I have definitely become more assertive and comfortable and mature and confident. And I definitely feel like I don’t get so caught up in rushing or feeling like I owe anyone proof of the work that it takes to A) be a better human and soul, and B) to be a better artist. Me being a better person and more available and more healed and unbecoming and undoing voices that aren’t even mine makes me more available to the humanity of the people that I play, whatever they do, however they participate in this society.