As far as adaptations go, Zola is remarkably faithful to its source material, the 148-tweet thread known as #TheStory. When director Janicza Bravo and her co-writer Jeremy O. Harris came on board to translate the words of A’Ziah “Zola” King to the screen, they set out to preserve her voice, her agency, in the too-wild-to-be-true odyssey she initially shared with the world. (King also served as an executive producer on the film.) Clearly enamored with King as a person and a storyteller, Bravo and Harris treat #TheStory as scripture, and Zola is the stylish vessel for her hallowed words. In doing so, Zola’s “Zola” (Taylour Paige) operates as both author and audience surrogate—the film almost never leaves her side as we watch her process the events that are spiraling out of control around her, forming the narrative in real time. In that sense, Zola is, in part, a story about storytelling, how we’re all the main characters in our day-to-day lives, and the embellishments we make, both big and small, to craft the stories about ourselves that we think people want to hear.
Though Zola remains loyal to King’s tweets, frequently committing them to film word-for-word, there’s one notable exception. Just before the final act, a title card reading “@Stefani” appears on screen. What follows is a cinematic tangent both hilarious and horrifying as Stefani (Riley Keough)—Zola’s docent on this dark descent—recounts #TheStory from her perspective, with some notable discrepancies in what we’ve seen thus far. As comically ironic and distressingly racist as Stefani’s brief narration is, it, too, was pulled direct from the source: The Reddit post by Stefani’s real-life counterpart purporting to tell King’s story as she remembered it. Quite literally interrupting Zola, the scene serves as a distinct reminder of whose story we’ve been following along with thus far, and just how rare a movie like Zola is, where Black women control their own narratives.
In conversation with The A.V. Club, Bravo, Harris, and King unpack the memorable moment when Zola becomes “@Stefani,” revealing why they felt compelled to include it in the film, and how they balanced its humor with the uglier realities it brings to light.
#Zola #TheStory #JaniczaBravo
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