“Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this here b–ch fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”
So began a 2015 series of Tweets posted by A’Ziah Wells King relaying the story of a trip from Detroit, Michigan to Tampa, Florida that went horribly wrong as it devolved into a chaotic couple of days that involved kidnapping, a shooting, sex trafficking and a suicide attempt.
The thread, known as #TheStory quickly went viral as Wells King described how her friendship with a woman named “Jessica” led her on the now-infamous road trip, along with Jessica’s boyfriend Jarrett and her pimp “Z”.
Spying the opportunity for one hell of a script, Janicza Bravo, who first became aware of the Tweets via a group chat with her girlfriends, jumped at the chance to bring the wild ride to the big screen.
“I mostly wanted to make sure that the thing that would translate from what A’Ziah had written, was her voice,” Bravo told Variety. “The biggest challenge in writing and directing and putting the whole thing together was to make sure that what I had fallen in love with and what everyone here had fallen in love with, which was the original source material… [that] we would be able to live up to it.”
Evidently, Bravo was successful in her mission statement with Zola making its worldwide premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020 — to thunderous applause and a fair amount of laughter.
According to Bravo, the laughs are truly a credit to King’s original Tweets and her ability to find the funny in the most intense of situations.
“King managed to extrapolate all of this humour and tension and stress and anxiety and it just like got me,” Bravo said.
“It was electric. I could feel the blood coursing through my veins and I wanted it and I thought that, like, only a Black girl could’ve experienced that and processed it and exorcised it. In that way, only a person who is innately adept at engaging with their trauma is able to take a step away from it, retell the story and take a hold of their narrative.”
That an entire film could be created around 148 Tweets is indicative of the power of social media platforms and how they can be mined for talent, trends and tall tales. Zola — a mix of dark comedy, thriller, and road trip movie — might be one of the first movies to be born from a series of 140 character posts, but it’s unlikely that it will be the last.
Zola stars Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Colman Domingo and Nicholas Braun and will premiere globally on June 30.