If you were on Twitter in 2015 then you probably came across the Twitter thread that started the movie, Zola. This film which is coming out this year follows the true story of A’ziah “Zola” King and her friend Jessica. King famously tells her followers back in 2015, a wild story of a trip she took with Jessica in Florida, that is one of a kind. Filmmakers immediately ran to try to make this Twitter thread a film, but Janicza Bravo eventually got the project and made sure to portray it correctly.
Within the trip King experiences violence, racial issues, sex trafficking, and much more! What exactly was the story of Zola and how did Janicza Bravo bring the story to life?
The Story Behind ‘Zola’
As we mentioned above the story behind the movie Zola is one of a kind and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The real-life Zola was working at Hooters hoping to make some money when she decides to also try exotic dancing. One night while working at Hooters, she meets Jessica Rae Swiatkowski, and the two become instantly friendly. After exchanging numbers, Jessica invites her on a trip to Florida to do a dancing gig.
Unbeknownst to Zola, the trip would become a scary experience where she encounters sex trafficking.
Recounting the story to Rolling Stone, she says Jessica was sweet and seemed harmless, which is why she joins her in Florida. While in Florida, X who turns out to be Jessica’s pimp tries to get Zola and Jessica involved in sex trafficking. It becomes clear to Zola that Jessica is being controlled by X, and instead of leaving stays to protect her. Although Zola claims she never slept with any men for money during the trip, she is angry at Jessica for involving her in it.
Zola and Jessica just like many women, get forced into this world or scared into it. Zola says she tries to teach women with the movie, the horrors of that lifestyle and how easy it is to be manipulated. The real-life X, whose name is Akporode “Rudy” Uwedjojev pleaded guilty to two charges, sex trafficking, and coercion and was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Janicza Bravo and ‘Zola‘
Now that we know the wild story behind the film, how exactly did it get brought to life? It’s not easy being able to tell a true story especially one about women of color encountering sex trafficking. James Franco is the original person who was going to be working on the project but eventually didn’t. According to Janicza Bravo, the original script is misogynistic, even the lead actress rejects the movie at first.
“It was hypermasculine. It was written by men, and I think that version was maybe speaking to a different audience. I think A’Ziah, the real Zola, introduced us to a world that was, at least to me, foreign. She introduced it to me with a lot of care but didn’t dumb it down. She was like, Here’s the world. Come along for the ride. I’m not going to explain it to you, but you’re an intelligent enough person and audience, you’ll be able to deduce by what I’m showing you.” But [the original script] version was breaking down the world or simplifying it in some way. I wanted to lean into the enigma. ” She tells Vulture.
Even though Janicza Bravo tries her best to tell the story, unfortunately not everyone agrees with it. The real-life Jessica, actually says certain parts of the movie are untrue and claims that Zola doesn’t portray the truth. Even two women who experience something similar with Akporode “Rudy” Uwedjojev say the movie glorifies sex trafficking.
Finding The Right Cast
Even though the movie has mixed reviews, it also isn’t the easiest film to cast. Janicza Bravo says finding the right girl to play Zola was a mess to cast and to even direct to. After so many casting issues, eventually, Taylour Paige is who is given the role of Zola after Janicza sees her in a coffee shop.
“By the time I saw Taylour in real life, we had, at this point, seen about 700 women. I was in L.A., where I live, at the coffee shop Go Get Em Tiger in the Larchmont neighborhood, and she walked in, and I was like, Holy … And I took a picture of her, and she saw me taking a picture of her. She threw me a really nasty look, and it was like, That’s it. That face she threw, I was like, Yes. That’s the one.” She recalls to Vulture.
As we mentioned, Taylour Paige originally says no to the script that was written before Bravo got on the project. It was hyper-masculine, and Bravo as a woman of color herself wants to make sure she tells Zola’s story perfectly.
You can watch Zola right now on Hulu.