Wonderland.

TAYLOUR PAIGE

Based on an epic, viral Twitter thread from a real-life stripper, A24’s Zola looks set to be one of the films of 2020. We meet its lead.

Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland headdress

Headpiece AREA

Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland headdress
Headpiece AREA

Taken from the Winter issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.

What’s the wildest thing to ever happen to you in 48 hours? A whirlwind holiday romance? A serendipitous bathroom-meet- turned-work-opportunity? A sudden life-changing windfall of money? Well, back in 2015, a viral, now-deleted story from a real-life stripper named Zola (real name Aziah Wells King) was told over the course of 148 tweets, picking up huge traction on Twitter under the hashtag #TheStory. The thread was a NSFW tale so outrageous that it rendered our entire office silent, mouths agape, bar the sound of insatiable scrolling and frequent interjections of “the fuck?” Even celebrities like Solange, Ava DuVernay and Missy Elliott voiced their opinions.

“Okay listen up. This story long. So I met this white bitch at Hooters…” And so begins Zola’s stranger-than-fiction American road trip odyssey of Homeric proportions, detailing how a chance encounter at work with a woman named Jessica led to her embarking on a stripping road trip to Tampa, Florida, along with Jessica’s boyfriend Jarrett, and a pimp named “Z”. There is hilarity, suspense, “trapping” (aka prostitution), murder, kidnapping, a leap out of a four-story window, and priceless key words of wisdom such as “pussy is worth thousands” and “this n**** lost in the sauce & this bitch lost in the game.”

Naturally, it was only a matter of time before a tale of such intrigue and high drama was picked up by film producers. The winners? Indie masters A24, of course. Helmed by Janicza Bravo, who has directed episodes of Love, Dear White People and Atlanta, Zola will see Riley Keogh play Jessica, with the titular role going to Taylour Paige, a Californian dancer-turned-actor whose previous credits include Matthew McConaughey’s White Boy Rick, plus three seasons of VH1 dance show Hit The Floor.

Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland green leggings
Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland dress

(LEFT) Body suit, stockings, belt and necklace AREA
(RIGHT) Shoes GMBH. Opposite page: Blazer KWAIDAN EDITIONS. Trousers SAKS POTTS

Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland green leggings
Body suit, stockings, belt and necklace AREA
Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland dress
Shoes GMBH. Opposite page: Blazer KWAIDAN EDITIONS. Trousers SAKS POTTS

“I don’t know if you believe in this, but Mercury is in retrograde right now and everything is fucked up,” Paige tells me on the phone from LA; she’s getting her nails done, and her comment is in response to the fact that our phone signal has failed five times over the course of our chat. She handles it like a champ.

“So anyway, after I got the script, I did my research and I was like ‘holy shit, this girl is iconic!” She starts, when we reconnect. But as is the case with film projects in Hollywood, there was a natural ebb and flow, and the buzz on Zola took a momentary dive. Then, in 2018, the film was back with a brand new script and director, one that “very much felt like Zola’s energy.” This time around, Paige was very much on board.

“I started talking to Zola through Instagram, and she was like ‘you’re so me it hurts’, like, ‘please hold tight, I haven’t seen anyone that gets me like you do, that understands my tone and my affectations,’” she remembers. After Paige snagged the role, the project was pushed back a couple of months, and, in preparation, she decided to dive pole-first into some gritty, IRL research, taking a job at strip club — Crazy Girls on Sunset Strip — for a month.

Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland orange boots
Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland blazer
Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland leg fold

(LEFT) Dress OTTOLINGER
(MIDDLE) Jacket, shoes and head piece AREA
(RIGHT) Sweater and skirt OTTOLINGER. Socks DAMER. Shoes DORATEYMUR

Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland orange boots
Dress OTTOLINGER
Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland blazer
(MIDDLE) Jacket, shoes and head piece AREA
Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland leg fold
Sweater and skirt OTTOLINGER. Socks DAMER. Shoes DORATEYMUR

“I wanted to honour real stripper culture and what these women do,” she explains excitedly. “I grew up a dancer, and I didn’t want to be a dancer trying to strip. I didn’t want to be precious about it, I wanted to go and be a stripper bitch. Also, I really needed money. I was sleeping on friends’ couches at the time, and my car had just broken down. I had to get really clear and still when I left [Hit The Floor]. From there, I started reflecting on what stories I wanted to tell, and why I was telling them. [But] with being selective also comes with being broke. I’d worked at a weed dispensary, a clothing store, I was cleaning houses, I was nannying.” As goes with appearing on a high-profile television show like Hit The Floor, Paige was recognised by some of the strippers, and when they questioned her motives, her response was gold: “I’d be like, ‘same as you girl, tryna get this money!’’”

Paige tells me that “super smart” IRL Zola, Aziah Wells King, was consulted often during the making of the film, and while the script is whip-smart and hilarious, it also doesn’t shy away from the fact that, at its heart, it is an exploration of the underbelly of Tampa, sex trafficking and the human drive for survival. “The scenes with the sex trafficking [are] sad because, for women, it has a lot to do with the patriarchy, toxic masculinity, trauma, sex workers and how they’re erased…” Paige ruminates. “But luckily Janicza’s such a visionary; she makes you feel both sad, but also you’re like dying laughing, and then you’re uncomfortable that you’re laughing.”

For now at least, #TheStory of Zola remains a wild, viral internet tale of strippers and pimps, but Paige is excited for the film to not only to honour an untold discourse of sex trafficking, but also to depict black women in their day-to-day beauty, and un-glossy entirety. When I ask her if it was the outrageous nature of the story that drew her to Zola, her answer surprises me.

“I mean, it’s just a young woman, black, hustling, doing what you have to do to get what you want to get,” she says softly. “I wanted to be pushed out of my comfort zone, and I was finding my confidence in surrendering to being lost a little bit. I was also really interested in the fact that Janicza, a black woman, was directing it. It’s a black female lead, it’s not over-simplified, and [the character of Zola] is beautiful because she’s real. The film looks at the minutia of a black girl doing her hair; what she wears; the things she says — like, those little intimate moments that [show] a fully realised human being, regardless of what she does.”

Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland splits
Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland tights

(LEFT) Full look BALENCIAGA
(RIGHT) Jacket, shoes and head piece AREA

Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland splits
Full look BALENCIAGA
Zola actress Taylour Paige in the Winter issue of Wonderland tights
Jacket, shoes and head piece AREA
Photography
Daria Kobayashi Ritch
Fashion
Mindy Le Brock
Words
Maybelle Morgan
Hair
Vernon François at The Visionaries using Vernon François
Makeup
Karo Kangas at Lowe and Co. using MAC Cosmetic
Production
Federica Barletta
Production assistants
Tesa Pavić and Rocco Nereo Masi
Hair assistants
Mitchell Cantrell
TAYLOUR PAIGE
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