Adapted from the viral Twitter thread in 2015 by A’Ziah King – a Detroit stripper who goes by “Zola” as her 148-tweet real-life story’s protagonist – director Janicza Bravo and playwright Jeremy O. Harris’ Zola is a metatextual dramedy, mirroring the source material’s zany zeitgeist in the digital age of social media sensations. Bravo’s hypnotically surrealist and humorously Tumblr-esque audiovisuals stylise Harris’ holistic vision of snappy voiceovers and freeze-frame set pieces; together, they manage to weave a cinematic fever dream of carnal glory and psychological warfare.

The film starts with a smooth encounter between Zola (Taylour Paige) and the white stripper Stefani (Riley Keough), who then invites Zola on a car ride to Florida, where the title character is caught off guard by the presence of two other passengers: Stefani’s larger-than-life pimp X, and her anxiety-ridden boyfriend Derrek. Staying true to King’s gripping online dramatisation of this one hell of a ride, the film is an intricately entertaining road trip saga, where sobering revelations of violence and victimhood sneak to the fore.

Anchored by Paige and Keough’s penetratively rambunctious performances, Bravo exerts an unwavering female gaze on the dynamic duo’s mesmerisingly curved bodies, snugly wrapped in leather and sequin costumes. Meanwhile, Bravo radicalises her gaze into mockery and contempt towards the film’s male characters and their bodies by brutally dissecting their fragile ego, toxic masculinity, and abuse of power. This gendered juxtaposition dares to trigger our visceral sympathies for Zola and Stefani in their scenes of vulnerability and resistance against omnipresent sexual exploitations and assaults.

Beneath the film’s sinuous, seedy fun, there lies a reticent melancholy on Zola and Stefani’s fleeting bond that gets lost amidst the nightmarish insanities of crimes and deceits. From their doomed friendship derives the racial tensions and intersectional dilemmas compounded by image obsessions and money hungers.



CAST: Taylour Paige, Riley Keough, Nicholas Braun, Colman Domingo

DIRECTOR: Janicza Bravo

WRITERS: Janicza Bravo, Jeremy O. Harris, A’Ziah King

SYNOPSIS: Two strippers embark on a road trip that goes south.