david franco

How Aziah Wells Is Being Erased From The Zola Story

I was so excited about the Zola Story. So excited. It entertainingly exhibited a Black woman’s agency, innovation, heroism and creativity. To me, and quite a few others on the internet, it was desperately captivating and entertaining as hell.

So imagine my excitement when I learned that Ava DuVernay also thought the story was brilliant. This is a woman who has the track record, the power and the clout to get this story on the big screen. The two tweeted each other. So I just knew they, two Black women, could make it happen.

That’s just not how the cookie crumbled.

As is the case with quite a bit of Black art, it’s been co-opted. It started when Rolling Stone reached out to interview “Zola,” whose real name is Aziah Wells, her family members, her fiancé, and two of her “very real” characters, Jessica and her helpless boyfriend Jarrett.

The Rolling Stone piece,which got down to the fact and fiction of Wells’ twitter story (hint, it was mostly true), was written by David Kushner and, according to Variety,  it is Kushner’s story, not Wells’, that is serving as the base for the script and eventually the film.

In case you couldn’t tell by the name David, Kushner is a man. After looking at his picture and doing some Googling, his race and ethnicity are still unclear. He may very well be a man of color. But we’ll get back to that later.

The script will be written by two more White men, Andrew Neel and Mike Roberts.

And at the helm, directing  is White actor and director James Franco.

James Franco is talented. But he’s also the same man who felt it was appropriate to star in The Interview, a movie that made light of assassinating North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. It represented just a general lack of respect for a world leader. And I’d argue if that world leader were White (or American…that couldn’t happen with President Obama either), the film would have never been green lit by a predominately White Sony Pictures in the first place. I bring that up to suggest that perhaps, as a White man, Franco is not so in touch with people of color. Or not well enough to tell their stories.

I believe if he and his partners were indeed in touch, someone behind the scenes, either the writers or director would have been, in this particular case, Black. After all, they all swooped in to capitalize off the story of a Black woman, a White woman, White man and a Black (Nigerian to be exact) pimp. If you look at that cast of characters, White men are clearly in the minority. Yet, they represent all of the people chosen as leadership for this project.

Why wasn’t it Wells’ tweets that were used as the basis for the story instead of Kushner’s article, which though well-written and fact-checked, is basically just a rehashing of the twitter story.

In the Variety piece not only is Wells’ name completely absent from the discussion about the film, her image has even been erased from the article itself as if James Franco created a story that had the internet going crazy.

This is what we mean by cultural appropriation. This is what Azealia Banks, in a moment of lucidity, meant when she talked about the smudging or erasure of Black culture. This story, experienced and retold by a Black woman, has the potential to make millions of dollars; and, as far as I can tell, her name is not even mentioned in the discussion. But CAA, the company that represents Franco, Neel, Killer Films, and Kushner, will represent the film’s domestic distribution rights.

It’s just another glaring example of the ways White people, swoop in and commercialize our greatness for their gain.

And that’s not the only issue with what’s happening here. Not only are the director and writers White, they’re men.

I don’t have to tell you that men don’t and can never fully understand the plight of women. They don’t know what it’s like to be harassed on the street. They can’t relate to earning less money for the same amount of work, based solely on your gender. They likely don’t fear for their safety when they go out alone at night. The government isn’t trying to dismantle or completely destroy their reproductive rights. The police don’t have a history of systematically dismissing their rapes or incidents of domestic violence.

If men, in their positions of privilege in our society, fail to understand the experiences of everyday women, how much more out of touch would they be identifying with those women who work in strip clubs or in the sex trade. They simply can’t. Hopefully, these guys will do their research but this all is just very indicative of the lack of diversity in Hollywood. It’s not just about a lack of racial diversity. For far too long, there’s been a lack of stories about women as well. Think of how many stories we think are about women. But all the women do is complain or gush about a man. It’s played.

I don’t know why having a Black woman tell a Black woman’s story is such a novel idea. But unless some new information comes out about this project and the people behind it, I have absolutely no desire to pay to see a Black woman be co-opted out of her own life.

And as a bit of fun fact, Wells could certainly use this extra money as she and her fiancé are expecting a child, a little girl.

If you’re late to the party, you can read the full, authentic Zola story here.