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Sundance Film Festival

Twitter movie ‘Zola’ gets big cheers at Sundance

Five years ago, the greatest stripper tale ever tweeted captivated the social media platform. Now it’s a hit festival movie.

PARK CITY, UTAH — Next time you tweet an epic tale for your followers, make it a good one.

Could be a movie.

Could even be a movie that premieres at the Sundance film festival.

It could even be a movie that premieres at Sundance, gets a fantastic reception and lands itself in the competition for best dramatic film.

That’s what looks to be happening with Zola, the stripper tale that went viral five years ago, left us all panting for more and spawned articles, fact-checking and lots of laughter.

A quick refresher for the uninitiated: In October 2015, Aziah Wells King (Zola, brought to life by Taylour Paige in a breakout performance), tweeted to us all about her uncanny road trip to Tampa, Florida, with a stripper she met in Michigan (she’s from suburban Detroit), the stripper’s boyfriend and their roommate. The weekend was insane. But also highly entertaining.

Her series of tweets began like this: “Y’all wanna hear a story about why me & this b—- here fell out? It’s kind of long but full of suspense.”

It was all of those things. Let’s just say that what she thought would be a weekend to earn some quick cash dancing in a strip club in Florida turned into a sex-worker tale that ended with bullets flying and laws broken.

The film, written by Janicza Bravo (she also directed) and playwright Jeremy O. Harris, is as hilarious as it is adventurous. The performances by Paige and Riley Keough, who plays the other stripper, are inspired and if you were a fan of Zola’s 2015 tweets, the imagery that you conjured up at what this zany cast of characters looked like is executed perfectly.

“I was immediately obsessed,” Bravo said of the 2015 tweets. “It was the voice. Her voice is so compelling to me … the agency and the confidence. This film .. is stressful comedy and it really spoke to me. I think she’s a real-life superhero. Her voice is the voice I wish I had.”

Many of the film’s lines and narration were pulled from the tweets, leading Friday afternoon’s audience here, which included Kenya Barris (creator of black-ish) and Lena Waithe (creator of The Chi), to break up in laughter.

Colman Domingo, who played a menacing pimp in the film, shared this with the crowd: “There are images of us taking naps together. We had these long shoots. We wanted to get into all of the … honesty but also the playfulness of it. We were embracing that spirit because we had to do so much weird … work.”

Judging by the immediate social media commentary and early reviews, Zola could be a front-runner for the festival’s top film.

And all those retweeting fans from five years ago certainly are here for it.

Kelley L. Carter is a senior entertainment reporter and the host of Another Act at Andscape. She can act out every episode of the U.S. version of The Office, she can and will sing the Michigan State University fight song on command and she is very much immune to Hollywood hotness.