Dream Casting James Franco’s Zola Movie


#TheStory, as it officially trended on Twitter, might have been one of the top five most viral moments on the Internet in 2015. The captivating first-person tweetstorm of one woman’s accidental descent into involuntary prostitution taught us all a valuable lesson: Don’t go on random trips to Florida with strangers that you just met at Hooters. The provocative story, however, also offered a firsthand account about many of the horrors of sex work — deceit, kidnapping, and, sometimes, even murder.

#TheStory was told through the eyes of Aziah “Zola” Wells — a Hooters waitress and occasional stripper — who, after meeting another stripper, Jess, and “vibing over [their] hoeism or whatever” decided to take a road trip down to Florida to strip and make some quick cash. Nothing went according to plan, of course: “Z,” who was ultimately revealed to be Jess’ pimp, ordered her to prostitute herself after the strip clubs didn’t prove lucrative enough, and Zola stayed because she would have felt guilty leaving Jess alone — but she inadvertently ended up pimping Jess out herself, because “pussy is worth thousands.” Jess’ boyfriend, Jarrett, was hopelessly in love with her despite his knowledge that she had little to no commitment to him, and was ultimately driven to jump out of a four-story hotel window in a valiant expression of lovesickness — only to be caught by his underwear. The whole affair was every bit as addicting as it was ridiculous, but the saga means a lot more when you find out that a large majority of it is real.

After posting the story for what she admits to be the third time (the first two times, “no one cared“), Zola became a Twitter celebrity and caught the attention of almost everyone. Some of the more interesting fans included Missy Elliott, Desus Nice, and Ava DuVernay — leading many to inquire about a possible movie deal with the acclaimed Selma director.

Well, the bad news is that Ms. DuVernay won’t be turning the story into a movie, at least not for now. The good news, however, is that the movie is being made. Hollywood’s resident actor/director/producer/writer/artist/troll — James Franco — has signed on to direct #TheStory by the Twitter poet.

When it comes to Franco, unfortunately, there are so many ways that this gripping tale could end up as a very terrible movie. (I’m sure that none of us have fully recovered from the tragedy that was one of Franco’s last attempts at directing, 2013’s Interior. Leather Bar.) I would hate for this story to go to waste based solely on a few missteps, so I’ve stepped in to help him on his way. Here is my dream cast for the upcoming film.

Keke Palmer as Zola

In a since-deleted tweet, Keke Palmer talked about “starring in this new movie called #Zola.” Though she ultimately acknowledged it as a joke, Palmer really should take the starring role in this salacious tale. The 22-year-old has come a long way since starring in her Nickelodeon show True Jackson, V.P. as a teenager. Along with her recent role as Zayday Williams — a strong, no-bullshit sorority co-president on Fox’s Scream Queens — the actress-cum-singer has also made it clear in her most recent single, “I Don’t Belong to You,” that she won’t ever be taken advantage of by any man. No doubt that this would be the actress’ most controversial role yet (I’ve said it before myself), but she’s clearly ready to finally break out of her shell.

Mickey O’Hagan as Jess

In last year’s excellent Tangerine, a cis, white sex worker, Dinah, is dragged around town by the movie’s central character, Sin-Dee Rella, who suspects that Dinah has been sleeping with her boyfriend while she’s been away in jail. Dinah is played by Mickey O’Hagan, who perfectly toes the line between helpless and heartless. At times submissive and easily controlled, Dinah would, at other times, quickly slide in to deliver biting lines — completely flipping the dynamic between her and Sin-Dee on its head. This kind of quick wit would translate well to a character like Jess, who, despite seeming helpless on the surface, was more aware than she let on.

Ezra Miller or James Franco as Jarrett

Ezra Miller: We, here at Flavorwire, love to cast Ezra Miller. Cast him in this, cast him in that, cast him in everything. With a slight build and wild acting malleability, Miller would be a perfect choice for, perhaps, the most dynamic character in #TheStory. Additionally, after some hauntingly brilliant performances as Prisoner 8612 Daniel Culp in last year’s The Stanford Prison Experiment and as Kevin in 2012’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, it’s obvious that he has the acting chops to convincingly portray a man whose grip on reality is rapidly crumbling.

James Franco: Honestly, at this point, why not? James Franco is definitely not above casting himself in a central role in his own movie, and this may be the time when Franco’s completely unconventional approach to, well, everything, might just work. If Franco has shown us anything throughout his entire career, it’s that he’s willing to go the extra mile for anything he participates in — whether it’s creating a gay alter ego through which to channel his “art” or getting grills and cornrows to satirize one of the most divisive rappers of the moment. Why wouldn’t he be excited by the chance to jump out of a window in a crazy gesture of love?

Idris Elba as Rudy/”Z”

OK, admittedly, I want to cast Idris Elba in everything — but that’s just because every role would work better with him in it! In his extensive acting catalogue, he’s already played a drug kingpin, starring as as Russell “Stringer” Bell in HBO’s The Wire, and a less-than-ethical detective chief inspector in Luther. Last year, he played an abusive rapist in the undeniably superb Beasts of No Nation. Elba has a charisma that commands a screen, and, with the crazy turns “Z” takes as #TheStory develops, he seems like one of the few actors out there who could make such a challenging character work.