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Director Janicza Bravo on the secret to the success of ‘Zola’

How the much-loved summer movie nailed the tenor and tone of social media.

Director Janicza Bravo on the secret to the success of ‘Zola’
[Illustration: Jordan Andrew Carter]
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Things move fast on Twitter. Within hours of filmmaker Janicza Bravo reading exotic dancer Aziah “Zola” King’s 148-tweet account of a road trip gone epically bad in 2015, she asked her agents to obtain the film rights. But she was already too late. Years later, when the project’s initial director dropped out, she got another chance. Bravo spent months making an ultimately successful case to indie studio A24, which held the rights, that she should take over the project. Her pitch? That it was possible to convey on screen the digital vitality of a story told through tweets.

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Zola, which came out in theaters in June 2021 (and is cowritten by Slave Play’s Jeremy O. Harris)—still riding the tidal wave of positive buzz it earned at Sundance in 2020—unfolds with the hyper-speed and playfulness of social media, scored by the constant chirping of text messages and tweets. Characters wield their phones as extensions of their personalities, complete with corresponding ringtones, and Bravo even pipes in Twitter’s signature whistle whenever the movie pulls directly from Zola’s thread, channeling the urgency of tweets into another medium. It’s a heightened, casually absurdist approach to telling an already outrageous story. “All of my work takes place on a planet next to Earth,” Bravo says. “It looks and smells and sounds like Earth, but it’s just to the left of it.”

Read more about Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2021

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