How A24 has sold a buzzy new film with social media roots.
Several years ago there was a small wave of books and TV shows based on — or at least inspired by — Twitter or other social media threads. This week there’s finally a feature film that can claim the same pedigree.
Zola stars Taylour Paige in the title role of a woman who meets and almost immediately agrees to go on a road trip to Florida with Stefani (Riley Keough). The two have it in mind to dance in strip clubs and make a bunch of money in a short while. But the trip turns out to be a lot more wild and violent than Zola bargained for as she also has to deal with Stefani’s boyfriend Derrek (Nicholas Braun) and pimp X (Colman Domingo).
It’s been six years since the real life Aziah “Zola” King posted her 148 update long Twitter thread, but the buzz around the movie, which currently sports a solid 88% Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, is still palpable.
The first poster (by marketing agency P+A) came out in March of this year and sports an appropriately Instagram-esque look. Zola and Stefani are featured in front of a bright background, the multiple exposures creating a sense there are many versions of the characters.
The second posters, released in May, offers the same idea but with the camera shifted slightly. “Wanna hear a story” nods nicely to the movie’s origins as a story told on Twitter.
Further details on release plans didn’t come with it, but a brief teaser was released in early August of last year
It wasn’t until March of this year that the first full trailer (894,000 views on YouTube) came out. As it begins, Zola and Stefani are planning a spur-of-the-moment road trip to Florida with the promise of making a whole lot of money stripping. Once they’re there, Stefani seems to take it to an extreme, leaving Zola to pick up the pieces and deal with her craziness.
Online and Social
No standalone website for the movie but there were social media profiles on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Giphy.
Advertising, Press and Promotions
Sundance 2020 was slated to be the movie’s premiere venue, with the cast and crew in attendance. A24 acquired distribution rights just as the festival was kicking off and reactions were generally positive from those in attendance.
Director Janicza Bravo was interviewed along with others involved in the film about how they developed the story and characters, turning a bunch of Tweets into a full-fledged movie.
At Sundance Bravo was interviewed again about how they crafted a story out of a Twitter thread, how she wasn’t worried about most anyone’s potential reaction to the film and more. There was also an interview with the person whose Twitter story has been adapted here. The movie’s editor spoke about similar topics.
As the campaign ramped up in 2021, IMDb shared a set of exclusive stills from the film.
Paige and Keough attended the MTV Movie Awards in May.
An interview with Colman had him talking about this movie in particular but also other upcoming films he’s in and more.
In June it was added to this year’s Sundance Film Festival: London lineup.
An interview with Bravo and Jeremy O. Harris, who cowrote the screenplay with Bravo, had them talking about the challenges of turning a viral social media incident into a feature film and the process the two went through to make that happen. That was also the focus of a later profile of Bravo on her own.
Of course there were profiles of the real Zola that looked back on the legacy of her viral thread as well as the surreal nature of seeing a movie based on her experiences. In fact A24 went so far as to turn that thread into a collectible print book, with promotions running for anyone interested in owning a bit of internet ephemera.
Paige was interviewed about how she connected with the character of Zola when she was presented with the project. She and Keough were interviewed together about the craziness of the story as well as the off-screen friendship that resulted from the production.
Later interviews with Bravo had her talking about the movie influences she pulled from in crafting the film and more. She was also part of a profile of Keough focused on the actress’s commitment to the insanity of the story. Those two were then joined by Paige for this look at the movie’s journey over the last couple years.
Additional interviews with Paige included how she has some experience with seeing exotic dancing/stripping as a potential income source and how she actually went ahead and did so as part of her research for this role. Meanwhile Keough talked about finding the empathy in her character even though she found her “offensive” in many ways.
A special screening was held in Atlanta that included a Q&A with the cast and crew.
It’s a bright, fast-paced campaign that seems, much like the movie purports to be, very much rooted in the world of social media. Everything in the trailers seems GIF-able (and it largely was), the poster looks like an elaborately-staged Instagram pic from an influencer and even the social media promotions seem to speak native internet in a way many campaigns can’t manage.
More than all that, the movie may benefit from all the buzz that’s built up with critics and others calling it one of the year’s best films, if not the best to date.