A full two years ago, one of the most anticipated films of the Sundance Film Festival was, according to our highly reliable algorithm, Zola. Now we can finally see it.
The story of a series of tweets that went viral IRL went on to critical and peer acclaim, and we desperately anticipated its arrival in Aotearoa. Soon after, of course, the world closed down and the film was unable to be released. Aotearoa continued with relative freedom, Ensemble was birthed, and we pushed for a NZ screening, to no avail.
Soon after the film was released in the US mid 2021, it was announced to play at the NZ International Film Festival and it seemed as if our neon-coloured hyper-real Zola dreams would finally come true. Unfortunately Delta had other plans and our dreams were scuppered (those outside of Auckland were able to see it). But fear not dear reader, we are nothing if not tenacious and on January 20, the film is playing at Tāmaki Makaurau’s uber-cool In the Shade festival at The Hollywood cinema in Avondale. Ensemble Members will receive a complimentary double pass to the screening which is selling out fast. Secure your tickets to this must-see event here. Forthwith a short and not at all comprehensive list of why we’re obsessed with this film.
1. “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense”
This is the line that kicked it all off, an immortal Tweet tapped out in 2015 by a then 19-year-old A’Ziah ‘Zola’ King, about a trip to Florida with her ‘friend’ and the ‘friend’s pimp, that went very, very bad. “Okay listen up. This story long. So I met this white bitch at Hooters…” Subsequent Tweets had the Twitterverse on tenterhooks, resulted in a Rolling Stone feature, and had Hollywood circling. The now cancelled James Franco was signed on to tell this story but thankfully that project fell through making way for numbers 2 and 3 on our list.
2. Janizca Bravo
The director and co-writer of Zola - the genius who brought it to life on-screen. Janizca first caught our eye with her debut feature Lemon starring her ex-husband and erstwhile muse Brett Gelman (also known as Martin, the vile brother-in-law in Fleabag), Judy Greer and Michael Cera. Janizca also features heavily photographed throughout one of our favourite cookbooks, the excellent All I Want to Eat from hip Silverlake eatery Sqirl. So we know her to be one of literal excellent taste.
3. Jeremy O. Harris
The Tony-nominated Broadway playwright is a Yale graduate and Gucci muse who played himself in an episode of Gossip Girl and a fashion designer in season two of Emily in Paris. Most recently his extremely buzzy Broadway show Slave Play was attended on ‘date night’ by Kanye West and Julia Fox who posed backstage with him after curtain closed. He’s also a dedicated philanthropist who has given away much of his earnings since finding financial success to help support others in the Black literary community. If you’re interested in how a Tony-nominated playwright approaches adapting a Twitter thread for the big screen you will love this interview with him on Slate’s ICYMI podcast which helped cultivate our obsession. We also consider Jeremy O. Harris to be one of the best follows on Instagram.
4. Taylour Paige, Colman Domingo, Riley Keough and Nicholas Braun
Talk about a stacked cast. The titular role is played by Taylour Paige, who’s been nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and by all accounts is superb and tremendous. Taylour has previously appeared in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom and Zoë Kravitz’s Instagram. Riley Keough and her intentionally problematic ‘blaccent’ take on the role of the problematic friend Stefani, and Euphoria star Colman Domingo (also nominated for a Spirit Award) plays her pimp. Also, Succession’s Cousin Greg is in this film as Stefani’s ‘idiot boyfriend’. Are you sold yet?
• Zola screens as part of In The Shade, a new film festival in Tāmaki Makaurau to be held across The Hollywood and Academy cinemas from January 19 to February 2. Other films (among the many) we're keen to check out include Fiona Clark: Unafraid (directed by Lula Cucchiara), Nine Days (produced by Mette-Marie Kongsved) and Paul Thomas Anderson’s acclaimed (and also controversial) Licorice Pizza.