Zola

Zola ★★★½

Before today, the last movie I saw in a theater was Portrait of a Lady on Fire. Seventeen months and 4 million COVID deaths later, Zola is, to say the least, a different movie for a different time, even if it was made before everything fell apart. Catching up, after the fact, on the viral tweet thread and subsequent Rolling Stone article that inspired it, I’m a little surprised the film didn’t do more with the Rashomon effect of the real-life characters’ conflicting stories, which would have seemed to me a fitting statement on social media’s tendency to incentivize self-mythology. But I guess there’s enough agreement on the story’s broad strokes. And the stuff that makes Zola’s telling of it so compelling—her coexisting swagger and vulnerability—is well-captured, as is the centrality of the internet to her generation’s social bonds, with the sounds of smartphone notifications woven almost subliminally into the film’s soundtrack. Lest any old folks and/or Luddites feel lost, though, the film’s universality lies in its window into the oldest profession, and that’s where it packs its biggest punch. Hats off to A’Ziah King, Jeremy O. Harris, and Janicza Bravo for managing a wickedly entertaining Trojan horse of a reminder of the horrors of human trafficking.