By now we all know, or have at least heard, of the viral Twitter phenomenon that was Zola: An exotic dancer gets sucked into a headlong adventure involving Florida strip clubs, pimps, kidnapping, and a shooting—all resulting from friendship struck up with another dancer on a whim, less than 48 hours prior.
Actor Taylour Paige brings the on-screen version of Aziah “Zola” King to life in the film of the same name, which stars Riley Keough as new friend and fellow dancer Stefani, Nicholas Braun as her pitiful boyfriend Derek, and Colman Domingo as Stefani’s pimp X.
“Zola is powerful,” Paige said. “She knows her words. She has agency. She’s sexy, she’s confident. She’s super smart.”
In an interview with Jezebel, Paige spoke about the nuances of sex work and race present in the film: Initially, Zola believes the spontaneous trip down south will revolve around dancing and making money. Instead, X forces Stefani and her to do sex work. “The act of sex is something that is sacred. It’s really beautiful,” says Paige. “It’s exploitive when men decide how to legislate it. It’s exploitive when anybody other than the person that’s living it, doing it, breathing it is in control of what feels right and comfortable to them.”
Race also impacts the relationship between Stefani—who is white and speaks with a heavy blaccent—and Zola. “The accent and the braids and the nails, it’s cute on [Stefani’s] face,” Paige said. “But the minute a Black woman does that, it’s something else. It’s ghetto. It’s, ‘Oh, she’s unintelligent.’
“To be a woman is to constantly be exploited,” she continued. “To be a Black woman is to constantly be exploited–and gaslit.”
The story may sound like a fever dream, but Zola captures a very present reality for Paige about the exploitation of vulnerable women as well as the intersections between power, race, and sex work. “It’s a horror film, but it’s a dark comedy also,” she said. “And it’s an observation of the world that we actually live in and what exists, especially [in] America.”