The Shocking True Story Behind Zola

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The Shocking True Story Behind Zola

VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
Are you up for the trip of a lifetime? Zola will take you there. This critically-acclaimed drama follows a young woman as she embarks on a wild road trip to Florida, with a stranger that she JUST met. The trip takes several unexpected turns as she gets mixed up in one crazy shenanigan after another. The craziest part about this movie, though, is that it was supposedly inspired by a true story. Join MsMojo as we discuss The Shocking True Story Behind Zola.
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The Shocking True Story Behind Zola

One of the most buzz-worthy movies to come out of Sundance 2020 was Janicza Bravo’s “Zola.” This critically-acclaimed drama centers on a young woman who goes on a road trip to Florida with a woman she just met. The trip takes several unexpected turns as she gets mixed up in one crazy shenanigan after another. The craziest part about this movie, though, is that it was supposedly inspired by a true story. Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be discussing The Shocking True Story Behind Zola.

Granted, there’s been speculation as to how factual this “true story” is. One thing’s for certain though: it derived from a very really Twitter thread. In 2015, Aziah “Zola” Wells chronicled her bizarre trip in a 148-tweet thread. The thread soon went viral, even attracting the attention of celebrities like Missy Elliott, Keke Palmer, Solange Knowles, and Ava DuVernayn. Exactly how much of this gripping story is true, though?

Here’s how Zola initially summed it up. She was working as a waitress at Hooters where she met a woman named Jessica Rae Swiatkowski. Zola and Jessica bonded over their dancing/stripping backgrounds, exchanging numbers. Not long after this first encounter, Jessica texted Zola, inviting her to go to Tampa, Florida where they could make some cash stripping. Although Zola was skeptical, she figured the extra money couldn’t hurt and decided to pack her “baddest stripper wear,” even though her boyfriend, Sean King, voiced his concerns.

Zola got picked up in a black SUV with Jessica and two guys: Jarrett Scott, Jessica’s boyfriend, and their roommate Akporode “Rudy” Uwedjojevwe, who’s referred to as “Z” in the thread. Upon arriving in Florida, Zola and Jessica dropped their stuff off at a sleazy motel. Jarrett stayed behind while Rudy drove Zola and Jessica to the Tampa Gold Club. Zola was ready to leave after making about $800 and Jessica called Rudy to pick them up. When Jessica explained that Rudy was “taking care of” her, Zola knew that meant he “was her pimp.” Things only grew more uncomfortable when Jessica revealed that Jarrett didn’t know.

Zola and Jessica told Rudy that they didn’t make anything. So, he asked the ladies if they wanted to “trap,” code for prostitution. Jessica was totally onboard while Zola wasn’t sure how to react, keeping quiet. After Rudy dropped them off at a hotel suite, Zola went off at Jessica, completely unprepared for what she dragged her into. Zola threatened to leave, but she decided to stay after Jessica begged her. Jessica told Zola that she could just let the clients in without trapping. Nonetheless, Zola was taken aback when Jessica and a client started going at it on the bed next to her. Even more shocking, Zola found out that Jessica was only charging $100. Feeling she deserved more, Zola posted about Jessica on Backpage with a minimum price of $500, causing her trap phone to blow up! Throughout the night, Zola claims that 20 men showed up, only three of which were sent by Rudy.

A hysterical Jarrett called around 6:00 A.M., freaking out over Jessica’s whereabouts. Jessica claimed that they went to another club, but Jarrett saw right through her. When Rudy returned, Jessica told him about the Backpage and gave him all the money, about $5,500. Rudy cut Zola in $500, but he told Jessica he owed her rent.

The three then returned to the motel together, to find Jarrett hanging outside with another man who had dreadlocks. Fearing what Jarrett had told the man, Rudy moved them to another hotel. Jarrett had seen the Backpage ad, instigating a huge fight with Jessica. As they argued, Zola decided to spend the day by the pool. She was in Florida after all.

Later that evening, Jessica planned to go out and trap some more. Jarrett started self-harming, punching himself and threatening to commit suicide if she left again. When Jessica refused, Jarrett posted her trap ads on her Facebook. Jessica broke down over the thought of her family seeing the ad, calling Rudy. Rudy stormed into the room with his fiancé, who pulled out a handgun. After having the post deleted, Rudy had Jessica go down on him as Jarrett watched to humiliate him.

Rudy then ordered Jarrett to drive Jessica to her clients. Unbeknownst to Jarrett or Jessica, he gave Zola a gun in case things went south. As Zola walked Jessica to her last client, two men jumped out of the hotel room and snatched Jessica. Zola ran, and with Jarrett she called Rudy, who rushed over and started pounding on the door. On the other side, was none other than the dreadlocks guy that Jarrett had met earlier - who turned out to be a rival pimp. Rudy found Jessica knocked out and tied up in a closet. All the while, Zola stood outside, but she started running after hearing a gunshot. It wasn’t long until Jarrett and Rudy, carrying Jessica, caught up. They all took off and Rudy told Zola that he shot the other pimp in the face.

The next day, Rudy booked Zola and Jessica on a plane home, but kept Jessica behind to continue trapping. When Jessica refused to leave with him, Jarrett had another meltdown and jumped off the fourth-floor balcony of Rudy’s home. Fortunately, Jarrett got stuck by his pants and Rudy pulled him up. Before leaving, Jessica told Zola that she hoped they could still be friends, although the feeling was NOT mutual.

Zola and Jarrett returned to Detroit, where Sean picked them up at the airport. A few days later, Jessica called Zola, crying that she and Rudy got arrested in Vegas for trapping. What’s worse, Rudy was wanted for kidnapping underage girls and murder.

Of course, this is just how Zola recounted it on Twitter. A month after the story gained traction, David Kushner of Rolling Stone did some digging, speaking to Zola and the other people mentioned in her twisted tale. In the article “Zola Tells All: The Real Story Behind the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted,” Rolling Stone confirmed that much of the Twitter thread checked out. But there WERE a few rather notable holes. Zola admitted that parts of the story were embellished for dramatic effect - including Jarrett attempting suicide and Rudy shooting the rival pimp.

In the Rolling Stone version of the story, there’s no mention of Rudy’s fiancé pulling out a gun either - or of the humiliating scene that supposedly followed. Jessica and Jarrett’s own accounts contradict Zola’s in various ways. According to Jessica, Zola was actually the one trapping - something Zola denies. Jarrett claims that Zola wasn’t even at the outcall where the rival pimp showed up, and that there was no confrontation at all. Rudy WAS arrested however - for his involvement in the sex trade, rather than murder.

Not long after the Florida trip, Rudy and Jessica allegedly tried forcing two women named Breeonna Pellow and Jessica Forgie to trap. Forgie claims Rudy assaulted her, but she managed to get away and alerted the authorities. Although Jessica insists that Zola’s story isn’t true, she did say that she was “brainwashed” by Rudy. Whoever’s side of the story you believe, it’s shined a much-needed spotlight on sex trafficking.

It’s also shown the film industry that social media could be a gold mine for movie ideas. Who knows? Maybe the next crazy story you share on Twitter will soon be coming to a theater near you.











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