In the moments after this film ended, this is the review I wanted to write:
Zola is a snuff film in which hope and humanity are killed during acts of sex.
Far from being a “comedy”, this is a disturbing film about the raw, abusive power differentials that cascade through the dark side of some branches of the adult entertainment and sex work industries.
It is bleak. It has moments of humour. But human life in this film is reduced to nothing more valuable that a tweet, insta, or hashtag.
In fact, this film is a gritty “told you so” to anybody wondering if the unfettered interactions of human sexual drive, capitalism, and social media could possibly be a recipe for success. It brilliantly shows us how the romanticism of hoe culture – glorified by most ad agency creatives and brand managers wanting to capture and manipulate young audiences – is violently hypocritical and sinister. What savvy pop culture gives with one hand, powerful assholes and desperados take away with the other.
That said, the performances by Taylour Paige (White Boy Rick) and Riley Keough (The Lodge), and the direction by Janicza Bravo, are all exemplary. We are held against our wills in the cinema while the promise of a “Sundance comedy” is shredded before our eyes and we are compelled to witness various plights of despair.
The story is loosely based on a twitter thread depicting two strippers whose road trip to Florida takes a series of “wild turns”: As the lead character’s igniting tweet states: “You wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”
And “wild turns” is indeed a euphemism for the Hollywood-glorified version of hoe/bitch/n-word gangsta culture, distracting us wtih glitter and titties while knives sever our threads of humanity, not just through systemic, misogynistic power structures but through face-to-face, hand-to-hand deception and betrayal.
Our podcast takes a sex positive position (Decriminalising Sex Work In SA) because we know that within sex work there can be many intimate, respectful, important, fun, and life-affirming liaisons but in this film, we are forced to observe the shadow actions of the dark end of the sex work spectrum.