As if A24’s upcoming film Zola needed any more hype, Taylour Paige and Riley Keough solidified their chemistry and camaraderie at Sunday night’s MTV Movie & TV Awards in Los Angeles. The costars both wore sequined Gucci, as well as makeup by Pat McGrath Labs. (Keough went with blue false lashes and eyeliner, courtesy of makeup artist Rachel Goodwin.) Set for a June 30 release, a year and a half after its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Janicza Bravo’s highly anticipated film is an adaptation of Aziah King’s viral 148-tweet Twitter thread about a messy, chaotic road trip to Tampa. (Zola also stars Succession’s Nicholas Braun and Euphoria’s Colman Domingo.)
“I’ve had a lot of films at Sundance, and I’ve never had that kind of response before,” Keough said on the red carpet, adding that she and Paige had a “pretty instant connection” upon meeting on set in 2018. Paige was equally affectionate on Instagram, describing herself and Keough as “tweedle dee and tweedle dumb.” Stylist, Jamie Mizrahi, also posted closeups of Paige’s pink shrug, sheer jumpsuit, and heart-shaped nipple pasties, as well as Keough’s emerald shrug, striped trousers, and purple crop top.
Keough’s character, a dancer and sex worker named Stefani, is a deliberate case study in cultural appropriation, complete with stylized baby hairs, long acrylic nails, and cornrows. And then, of course, there’s the way she talks. Keough worked with a dialect coach on a “blaccent” that Bravo hoped would make viewers squirm. “There was this idea of like, ‘This story’s coming from the ghetto,’” the director said at Sundance. “And Aziah was like, ‘Actually, I’m from the suburbs. If you heard her talk and Taylour talk and I talk, our cadence is sort of similar.” Bravo intended Paige to be a version of herself, and Keough a “version of a nightmare.”
As Paige summed it up at the festival, “[Keough]’s in blackface the whole movie.” And Paige wasn’t always convinced it would work. “Originally, when I read the script, it wasn't by Janicza and it wasn't by Jeremy O. Harris,” Paige told W earlier this year. (James Franco, who was originally set to direct the film, stepped back after being accused of sexual misconduct.) “It was extremely racist and sexist,” Paige continued. “It's like they took the tweets, and then they made it some story that wasn't nuanced. It was just like typical clownery of Black culture, and not the nuance of code-switching.” Eventually, Bravo came on board, along with cowriter Jeremy O. Harris.