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‘It Wasn’t Something I Needed to be Saved From’: The Woman Behind Upcoming Movie ‘Zola’ Shares An Unexpected Take On Her Life Choices

In 2015, when a 19-year-old exotic dancer A’ziah King, aka “Zola” tweeted a 148-part saga of a wild adventure, she never expected it to go viral. “I was just doing what I do, which is express myself and share myself to my online community.  I call them my internet family,” Zola said. She also didn’t expect that her for-her routine adventure would be considered for a movie.

“This kind of stuff happens to me every other day,” Zola said. “The fact that they were so intrigued and everyone was so amped up and ready for it and then obviously all the conversations online that were happening. At that point, I was like, ‘OK, there’s no shying away from this. This is what we’re about to do,’” she continued.  

The movie chronicles the tweets of Zola’s trip from Detroit to strip in Florida with Jessica, another dancer she’d met at her waitressing job. The trip quickly turns wild and even dangerous when she meets her new friend’s pimp and learns they have ulterior motives. Originally to be directed by James Franco, director credits ultimately went to Black creative Janicza Bravo, who brought Zola on as an executive producer, and who Zola says made sure her voice was heard.

A’ziah King, aka “Zola” (L), Riley Keough and Taylour Paige (right) who portrays A’Ziah ‘Zola’ King in the film ‘Zola’, based on the viral tweets about the strippers’ trip to Florida. – A24

“You need someone who looks like you in the room to kind of fight for you, because the people in the room before, you know all these lovely, talented, rich, white men — we love them — they were not necessarily like ‘we have to get that girl an EP credit, like she deserves that.’ That wasn’t on their mind,” Zola said. “But I think they were still there for me and I was still a part of the process and everything was great, but it’s just that extra above and beyond conversation that only someone who looks like she’s my sister is gonna do for me. So when that finally happened it became more, you know, closer to me, and they became more about protecting my voice as well as entertaining, as well as sharing the story the way that it was written.”

Zola’s dream cast also signed on Taylour Paige playing the lead for the film, which is simply titled “Zola.”

“I kind of manifested it that way. I just always kept Taylor in the back of my mind. And so when Taylor called me and asked for my blessing, I was like ‘ahhh,’ my prayers were heard,” Zola said.

Movie and notoriety aside, Zola says she wants people to see sex work differently. “I want people to understand that it’s very much possible to be a positive sex worker,” she said. “It’s a job, it’s a gig, and some of us really enjoy what we’re doing, that’s why we’re doing it,” she added. “Sex work is not something I do as a last resort. Or it wasn’t something I needed to be saved from. It wasn’t something that I was, like, down on my knees like ‘What else am I going to do besides sex work?’ No. It [the wild trip] was my first mind.”

She also wants viewers to see the movie as a cautionary tale that’s not just limited to sex workers. “It’s not ‘Taken’. You don’t have to be in some foreign country chained to a bed somewhere,” Zola said. “You’re out on the dance floor and you had one too many and you think it’s your Uber but it’s not, and now where are you? It’s like that type of situation, so I hope people really grasp that concept. It’s not taboo, it’s not far removed from any of us,” she said.

Zola has her eyes set on future projects. “I’m just hoping to continue sharing my stories, honestly. I want to keep writing,” she admitted. “I was just saying I would love to be in writers room. That’s been offered to me before, so I would love to give my input even if it isn’t my story. I think I have a certain way and a certain flavor with words,” she said. Zola has also turned her words into a book based on the original Tweets, and while she continues to explore her opportunities, she continues to do what she loves.

“I’m still very much so a sex worker,” she said. “I’m on OnlyFans. It’s very successful, I’m having a great time there. I mean, so just continuing how I’ve been and whatever comes to me, I’m open. She’s ready.”

Zola premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year and will be in theaters on June 30. Zola’s book titled “The Story” is also available online now.9

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