Harris became friends with Bravo about seven years ago. When the possibility of making “Zola” came up, Bravo asked him to write it with her. For Harris, “Zola” represents more than your average Hollywood breakthrough.
“This is a moment of profound catching up,” says Harris. “The work that she’s been doing has been so consist that I think people didn’t have a Rosetta Stone for the language she was speaking in. We’re not used to hearing a Black woman speak in languages this complex inside independent cinema.”
“Zola” was originally set up with James Franco directing. That version of the film, the filmmakers say, was a more carefree romp. Bravo and Harris approached King’s Twitter thread — a colorfully told, often funny tale that brought phrases like “vibing over our hoeism” into the lexicon — with more reverence. To Bravo and Harris, the thread was a modern-day Homeric epic. They wanted to ground the film in Zola’s perspective and capture the way Black women can be treated as disposable, and the traumatic fallout of white appropriation of Blackness.
“When Janicza came on board, it became more about my voice,” says King, who’s an executive producer on the film. Her tweets have been published in a cloth-bound hardcover.
In the film, Zola (played by Taylour Paige) is a Detroit waitress whose newfound friend, a customer she waits on, Stefani (Riley Keough), urges her to come along on a weekend in Florida to party and make money stripping. Keough plays Stefani as mimicking Zola by immediately adopting her mannerisms and phrases. For Harris, it’s a kind of blackface without the makeup; one scene he compares to Spike Lee’s “Bamboozled.” We watch as Stefani drags Zola into a hellish situation.