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Who Is Zola? True Story Behind Movie and Twitter Thread

How the Saga of Zola Went From a Viral Twitter Thread to a Buzzy New Movie


If you were on Twitter in 2015, you probably remember the wild story of "Zola" — and now the viral Twitter thread is a real movie! The true story behind Zola is the sort of thing that even Hollywood couldn't make up. How much of it is true and how much of it was embellished for Twitter, though, is still up in the air. Watch the teaser above, then keep reading for what we know of the wild true story.

The main source for the movie version of Zola is "Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted," a Rolling Stone article from November 2015 by journalist David Kushner. The short version of the story: Aziah "Zola" Wells, then a waitress at Hooters, met Jessica, one of her customers, and wound up going on a wild road trip to Florida that involved stripping, prostitution, drugs, and murder. Although Wells admitted to embellishing some details to get more attention, she insisted to Rolling Stone that she did it for a good reason: "I made people who probably wouldn't want to hear a sex trafficking story want to be a part of it, because it was entertaining."

Over the course of a 148-tweet thread, Wells narrated how, after bonding with Jessica over both being strip club dancers, she travelled to Florida with Jessica, her boyfriend Jarrett, and a man who turned out to be her pimp and just went by "Z." According to Wells's account, what started out as a dancing gig quickly morphed into both of them being prostituted by Z. "I just never thought that it would happen to me," she told Rolling Stone, adding, "I didn't want to leave [Jessica] by herself... [and Z] knew where I worked and where I lived." In her thread, she detailed how she took new pictures and put up a new ad for Jessica to attract higher-paying clients, and how, eventually, Jarrett found out what Jessica was doing and both he and Z were angry: Jarrett was angry about the prostitution, Z was angry about the girls going behind his back and making more money.

The story of the rest of the night changes depending on who's asked, and the Rolling Stone article covers everyone's perspective. Jessica claims that only Zola went on calls the rest of the night and was the subject of what transpired next. Wells's thread tells a much more dramatic story: while she tried to talk Jarrett out of trying to "save" Jessica, Jessica went on what she thought was a special-request call but turned out to be a rival pimp trying to "buy" her from Z, leading to a violent confrontation. Jarrett's version of that night does involve the rival pimp, but claims that there was no violent confrontation. Either way, Jarrett and Zola left, and Jessica refused to go with them.

Rolling Stone follows the rest of Jessica's story, too: she and Z wound up bringing two more girls into the fold, acquaintances of Jessica's who had posted asking for help on Facebook after their car broke down. According to the article, Jessica claims the girls willingly joined in, but the girls said they were coerced and, ultimately, were able to call the cops and get Z arrested. When interviewed, Jessica still insisted that Zola made up much of the viral story, but also admitted, "I was helping other girls be put into that situation, and as someone who's been sexually abused, why would I do that? All I can say is that I was literally brainwashed by Rudy." That's the one thing everyone involved with the story seemed to hope would come of its high profile: raised awareness of trafficking.

Image Source: Twitter user A24
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