How Zola Got Ready for the Long-Awaited Premiere of Zola

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Last night’s Los Angeles premiere of Zola was a long time in the making. A’Ziah King, known better as Zola, wrote her wildly popular, sensational Twitter thread in 2015. #TheStory, as it came to be known, followed Zola and a fellow exotic dancer named Jessica on a fateful trip to Tampa and, well, it’s better if you read the 148 tweets. Zola opened her thread with the instantly-iconic line, “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out???????? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.” Move over, Hemingway.

It had to be made into a movie. Six years later, here we are. Zola, written by Janicza Bravo, Jeremy O. Harris, and Zola, directed by Bravo, and starring Taylour Paige and Riley Keough hits theaters today. “I’ve always felt like I had something to say and the experiences I was having were not average or normal,” Zola shared on the phone from Los Angeles the morning after the premiere. “I’ve always moved with that purpose but I didn’t know what way or form it would manifest itself.”

For the premiere, Zola wanted to have a “fabulous superhero” moment, with help from stylist Becky Akinyode. “That’s always been my favorite look,” she explains. “Sailor Moon is a huge inspiration for me in my girl power feminism energy. My handle is @Zolarmoon. Some people get it, some people don’t.” The dress for the red carpet, by Frolov, delivered on that front. The body was a strapless mini, with sheer and beige paneling. A red swath of fabric was draped over the bodice, with an elegant cape cascading down the back. Makeup artist Robert Bryan had Zola’s skin, “looking like butter,” with shimmery eye makeup and a nude, glossy lip. Custom wig maker Star created an ash blonde wig for her as well, with waves that added to the overall bombshell effect. Black Gucci shoes and Mondo Mondo earrings and cuff finished off the ensemble, and Zola was ready to hit the step-and-repeat—before changing into an asymmetrical sheer orange Frovlov dress for the after party. “Everyone was excited and happy to be watching it. I know I was,” she says. “I’m excited to see how people are going to analyze it. I’ve seen it so many times and I want other people to talk about it so I don’t have to anymore.”

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Though the film was much-delayed (James Franco was the first director tied to the film in 2016) Zola is grateful to the team she had beside her in telling her story. “I think that Black writers and creatives, especially Black sex workers have to tell their own stories through their own perspectives,” she says. “There are so many Black experiences told through non-Black eyes which doesn’t really translate well. That was a big focus of mine, Janicza’s, and Jeremy’s.” With an executive producer and writing credit, it’s clear Zola is in charge of telling her own story: as it should be. “I hope the entire experience inspires other creatives to lift their voices through social media. To share them and own them and keep that agency over their voices throughout the process,” she says. “That’s what’s been done here.”

Below, she walks us through her premiere night.

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