Zola: The true story behind the viral Twitter thread made into a film filled with sex, pimps and murder
TWITTER user Zola infamously began: "You wanna hear a story about how me and this b***h fell out? It's kind of long, but it's full of suspense."
Over 148 tweets, she proceeded to tell a story of sex and violence sospectacular it became one of the biggest social media events of the year – and soon a film adaptation will be in cinemas.
Zola, aka A’Ziah Wells, published her astonishing account in 2015 of what she claimed had happened when she went to Florida with a stranger one weekend to perform in strip clubs – which quickly became a nightmare of sex trafficking and bloodshed.
Zola, who was just 20 at the time, said she was invited on the ill-fated journey by a customer she served at Hooters named Jessica.
But in her story, the weekend quickly spiralled out of control when Zola realised that Jessica's pimp, Z, wanted her to earn extra cash through prostitution.
And things got worse when Jessica's bipolar boyfriend, Jarrett, discovered Jessica's sex work, and responded by punching himself and attempting suicide by jumping off a balcony.
This is all before Zola claimed a Florida pimp beat Jessica up and tried to "buy" her off Z – who responded by shooting him in the face.
But how much of what became known as #TheStory really happened?
Sun, sex and serious violence
Zola says the ordeal began when she "met this white b***h at Hooters" in Detroit – and things quickly went south from there.
She and Jessica bonded over them both being exotic dancers and swapped phone numbers.
Soon after, Jessica invited Zola to go on a trip with her to Florida to make money. Zola says she was reluctant, but had made $15,000 stripping in the Sunshine State a few months earlier so agreed.
Zola's boyfriend was also against her going with someone she barely knew, with her tweeting "I had to f**k him calm" before she left.
The thread claimed that going with them were Jessica's boyfriend, Jarrett, and her "roommate" Z – whoZola says she didn't find out was Jessica's pimp until after they'd performed, and Jessica advised Zola to hide tips they'd earned.
Angered that Jessica hadn't made enough cash, Z asked her if she wanted to "trap", which "in stripper lingo means trick", Zola tweeted.
Horrified, Zola says she tried to leave, but Jessica cried and convinced her to stay as security while she proceeded to have sex with "about 20 dudes".
Meanwhile, Zola's thread said Jessica's boyfriend Jarrett became suspicious as to why the girls hadn't come back to the motel they were supposed to stay in after the strip club closed.
According to Zola's story, he worked out what Jessica was up to and revealed that she's a sex worker on Facebook to humiliate her.
In the story, Z responds by first threatening Jarrett with a gun, then forces him to watch him having sex with Jessica to "kill his manhood".
Later, a Florida pimp poses as a client in order to kidnap and beat Jessica up – he then offers Z $20,000 to buy Jessica, which Z answers by shootinghim in the face.
The next day, Jarrett pleads with Jessica to leave Florida with him and Zola – she refuses, so Jarrett tries to kill himself by jumping off the balcony of Z's fourth-floor apartment.
"He f***ing jumped," Zola tweeted. "I screamed SO LOUD my heart stopped."
Thankfully, he didn't plunge to his death, however, because "he was stuck by his pants", Zola explains.
Zola and Jarrett fly back to Detroit, and then a few days later Zola gets a call from Las Vegas.
It's Jessica, saying she's been arrested for selling sex and discovered "Z was wanted for kidnapping 15 underage girls & is linked to 6 murders".
Zola's thread ends with her saying Jessica "played victim", adding that Z "got sentenced to life" while Jessica was back in Detroit with her mother and child.
Sex trafficking reality
Zola's incredible story quickly blew up online but, unsurprisingly, accounts from the real people involved differed as to what had really happened.
Rolling Stone interviewed Zola shortly after her thread went viral and she freely admitted she'd embellished reality for dramatic effect.
Jarrett's dramatic suicide attempt and Z shooting the other pimp were completely made up, as was Z having sex with Jessica in front of Jarrett to humiliate him.
And Zola also denied claims that she too sold sex on the trip, but insisted what happened was broadly true.
The truth was actually a dark story about sex trafficking.
Z was really a Nigerian man named Akporode “Rudy” Uwedjojevwe, who met Jessica Rae Swiatkowski one night after she was raped in a strip club.
He was soon exploiting her too, including by forcing her into coercing others into "trapping".
A woman he raped reported the attack to the police who arrested him.
“I was helping other girls be put into that situation,” Jessica told Rolling Stone in 2015, “and as someone who’s been sexually abused, why would I do that?
"All I can say is that I was literally brainwashed by Rudy.”
In 2017, Rudy was sentenced to 16 years in prison for sex trafficking and coercion, Kolo-TV reports.
Now 40, he's still behind bars at the High Desert State Prison in California.
Zola said she hoped her Twitter story, which she posted and deleted twice before it went viral, would raise awareness about sex trafficking.
“For whatever reason, people feel like it doesn’t happen, not in their world at least,” she said. “But it does.”
Now Zola's story is getting a new lease of life on the big screen.
It stars Taylour Paige as Zola and Riley Keough as Jessica, whose name is changed in the film to Stefani.
Euphoria star Colman Domingo plays Z.
James Franco was originally signed on to direct the film but left the project in 2018 following allegations of sexual misconduct.
Janicza Bravo directed instead, saying she was drawn to Zola's character.
"What drew me most was her voice," Bravo told Deadline last year.
“I hadn’t really experienced a story like that, I would say ever in my life.
"The tenor of it was just so clear and it was so strong and so confident. It was the fantasy version I have of myself in a way.
"I said this to her many times, but she was like a real-life superhero.”
Zola will be in cinemas on June 30
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