“Zola”: The Film Inspired By a Viral Twitter Thread

Riley Keough stars in the comedy-drama Zola, inspired by a Twitter thread that went viral in 2015.

Credit: A24 Films (Ana Kooris)

Riley Keough has been cast in the film Zola, based on a 148-tweet Twitter thread that went viral in 2015. The thread was posted by Aziah “Zola” Wells, who at the time was a waitress that moonlighted as a stripper. One day when working at a diner, she met a customer named Jessica and the two quickly hit it off. Zola then agreed to join her new friend for a spontaneous weekend in Florida. There, the two experienced a whirlwind trip, involving stripper clubs, Jessica’s boyfriend and her pimp.

Riley Keough plays Jessica, who has been renamed Stefani, and stars opposite Taylour Paige who plays Zola. While her character has been described as a villain, the actor told Vogue how she relished being able to play such a three-dimensional character.

“I’ve played unlikeable characters a few times and it’s so much more fun. That’s the work we need to do as human beings in real life. With great filmmaking, you’re able to make the audience go, “I hate this girl, but she’s kind of sweet. Is she?”

On her relationship with fellow actor Paige, Keough also told Vogue, “Taylour and I fell in love instantly, except it wasn’t toxic like Stefani and Zola. It was this beautiful friendship, which is rare in your adult life. Working on Zola was wonderful.”

The Real Zola

In a 2015 interview with Rolling Stone, Zola gave an exclusive recount of her weekend in Florida. She openly admitted to embellishing the story and adding an aspect of dark humour towards an audience that “probably wouldn’t [normally] want to hear a sex trafficking story”.

While denying that the story is true, the real Jessica does take responsibility for her actions and the involvement she had had within the sex industry.

“I was helping other girls be put into that situation, and as someone who’s been sexually abused, why would I do that? All I can say is that I was literally brainwashed by Rudy [my pimp].”

While Jessica and Zola have not interacted since the weekend, the two both hope that the story is able to bring awareness to the presence of sex trafficking in the US.

Despite the film’s premiere at the Sundance film festival before the pandemic, its official release is set for the 23rd of September, 2021 in Australia.

Catch the trailer for Zola below:

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