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Tampa-shot film ‘Zola’ in theaters today

Bill DeYoung

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Riley Keough, left, and A’Ziah King star in Janicza Bravo's "Zola." Photo: A24

In describing the work of film director Janicza Bravo, the Miami Herald used words like “surreal, disturbing, satirical, absurd, otherworldly.” Bravo, whose latest, Zola, arrives this week, laughed when the Miami reporter recited them to her. “These are all very good, sexy words to me,” she laughed.

Zola, much of which was shot in Tampa (and other pats of the bay area) at the end of 2018, is based on the true – well, semi-true – story of Detroit waitress A’Ziah King (aka Zola), who embarks on a freewheeling, 48-hour journey to Florida with the uninhibited Stefani, a new acquaintance.

It’s a road trip that zeros in on a Tampa strip club and deteriorates from there – sex work, social media, race and violence combine with comedy, zeal, outrageousness and outrage.

Zola opens today with a 6 p.m. showing at AMC Sundial, and expands into wider release Wednesday.

The story began with a single tweet in 2015:  “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this bitch here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”

That was a 19-year-old King, in the first of 148 tweets that chronicled, in sharp and often humorous detail, her “hoe” adventures with Stefani (played in the film by Riley Keough, who happens to be the granddaughter of Elvis Presley).

King/Zola’s tweets became a long and winding story in Rolling Stone, which was then adapted into the second feature film from Bravo, a movie the Herald calls “a love letter to the story’s birthplace: the internet.”

King, an executive producer on Zola, had this to say: “When I watch the film, it’s kind of a time-traveling moment. It’s like I suddenly forget where I am and I’m back in 2015. She really paints that image.

“The movie, it feels like Twitter. I don’t know how to explain that, but it does. From the quotes to the chimes to the lighting, it feels like you’re in the internet.”

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