Ever had a fallout with a person you thought was a friend? There is a lot that can occur over a short period of time when you get along with someone well until you begin to learn who they truly are and how quickly they can change around different people. Inspired by Detroit-based Hooters waitress and exotic dancer A’Ziah “Zola” King and a Rolling Stone article by David Kushner, Zola embarks on a road trip in hopes of a different environment when she soon comes to find herself in a pool of unexpected events leaving her to feel agitated, distraught, and fearful of her life. Director of Lemon (2017) and Eat (2011), Janicza Bravo and her co-writer Jeremy O. Harris, brings A’Ziah “Zola” King’s tweets to life to provide a better understanding and meaning to her story.
The opening shot begins with Zola (Taylour Paige) and Stefani (Riley Keough) simply applying lipstick in front of a mirror making us believe everything is okay until Zola breaks the silence with “You wanna hear a story about how me and this bitch fell out?” Quickly the scene cuts to Zola at her waitressing job at a small food chain joint where she seems to have her life together until she meets Stefani. In a short amount of time, Stefani finds a way to convince Zola to dance at the club that same night and eventually invites her on a road trip to Florida with her “friend,” X (Colman Domingo), and her boyfriend, Derrek (Nicholas Braun), in hopes of making as much money as possible before returning home. In a way, Zola begins to change when she begins dancing again to the point where her boyfriend, Sean (Ari’el Stachel), grows a bit frustrated with the situation especially when she tells him about Florida but she shuts him up when she says “When a man don’t have anything to say about the way you make your money, he don’t like it.” I can imagine it takes a lot for a man to date a dancer considering the fact that they know they will be around other men and can boss themselves since they make their own money as well.
Fastforward, everything is going to plan in the beginning with the girls shaking their asses, taking pictures, and making money. Soon it all changes when Zola comes to realize Stefani had tricked her into pimp gigs where she is told to prostitute herself and later come to find out by Derrek that this has not been the only instance where she has pulled this card on someone else. The entire time, Stefani has her convinced she did not partake in the plan with her pimp, X, and every private gig was for the sole purpose to provide for her child back at home. More and more is revealed about each character, especially Derrek, who seems to be the type of partner who cannot keep a dancer as a girlfriend and continuously shows trust and attachment issues.
Verdict: 4.5 out of 5
Overall, Zola finds a way to show all sides of what the life of a dancer could potentially lead to if one does not know the people around them well enough. Thankfully, Zola had the chance to return back home safe but now with much more character due to everything she went through in Florida. In a way, this film can be seen as empowering yet demeaning to women and how they live on the daily. Maybe not all of us women have a pimp but we sure have encountered men who attempt to act like them in order to “keep us in place.”