From Twitter to the big screen

Zola premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020 and drew rave reviews from critics, who praised it for balancing the wild, often funny antics of Wells’ story with the more sordid truths behind them. A24 withheld the release of the film during the pandemic, likely seeing it a potential crowdpleaser once theaters return to normal operation. It will be released June 30 in the US.

The movie was supposed to be directed by James Franco until the actor-filmmaker was accused of sexual misconduct in 2018. Janicza Bravo took over as director a few months later. “I wanted to make sure that the thing that would translate from what A’Ziah had written was her voice,” Bravo told Variety at Sundance last year. “The biggest challenge was to live up to what everyone had fallen in love with, which was the original source material.”

Not everyone involved in the story is thrilled with its virality. Jessica, the young woman whom Wells said bamboozled her into the sex trade, claimed she never prostituted herself. “She’s ruining my life,” Jessica told Rolling Stone in 2015. Her boyfriend, Jarrett, also disputes elements of the story. Wells said the crux of the viral thread is true, but that she exaggerated certain things in order to entertain her Twitter followers.

That could present an issue to Hollywood the more it looks to social media for inspiration. Fact-checking stories from internet users—and ensuring real-life figures are depicted fairly—adds another wrinkle to the development process. But that’s a small price to pay for a chance at making a box-office hit or Oscar winner.

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