Zola | Black Widow | Tune In or Turn Off
IN 2015, A’ZIAH KING, A.K.A. ZOLA, FOUND HERSELF tagging along on a road trip to Tampa, Florida, for what she thought would be a weekend of dancing. In reality, it would include rivalling pimps, guns and King’s road trip companion having sex with a client right in front of her.
Thankfully, King came out of the weekend unharmed, and, in the hopes of processing what had happened, she took to Twitter to share her story. “I was so traumatized,” King tells Exclaim! “[At first] I was just tweeting it as if I was making a Facebook status. I wasn’t tweeting with the intent of tweeting anything more than a thread. I was really just tweeting my experience and hoping to find someone who related to my experience.”
A 148-tweet thread and Rolling Stone article later, King’s story has been immortalized on film in Zola, directed by Janicza Bravo and starring Taylour Paige as Zola herself, and Riley Keough as road trip companion Stephanie.
Zola is faithful enough to the Twitter thread, and places a spotlight on the dangers of the sex industry and the vulnerable situations sex workers can be put into. Historically speaking, Hollywood doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to portraying sex workers, a group usually silenced in society and forced into the background.
“I think the film industry has a responsibility to help normalize [the sex industry]. They’re quick to take a story and tell [it] for entertainment, but they don’t really understand the depths of what these people really go through.” King explains. “[Hollywood] knows how the industry itself plays a huge part in how normal something is or how shameful something is. So I think showing more of it the way that it actually happens is necessary.”
And as is the case for all storytelling, authenticity is the key. “I think that sex work stories need to be told by sex workers, just like I think Black stories need to be told by Black creatives,” King says thoughtfully. “I don’t think anyone who has not had this experience could tell this experience.”
Zola is perhaps the first Hollywood movie to be based on a social media post, but it most likely won’t be the last. For all the toxicity and negativity a platform like Twitter can promote, it has the ability to amplify those who we don’t normally hear from, and King hopes her journey to Hollywood will encourage others out there like her.
“[ Zola] is being told from a point of honesty: by sex workers for sex workers. That’s what I’m hoping will be the snowball effect from this experience.”