Quantcast
Whore Next Door: Zola’s Human Comedy - By - November 11, 2015 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Whore Next Door: Zola’s Human Comedy

“Hoeism,” “trapping,” and “fuck him calm” have, as of the end of last month, officially become part of the lexicon. Detroit sex worker Ahziah “Zola” King brought them into the mainstream when she captivated the internet with her epic crime saga, as told in 148 tweets.

Too often, sex workers' stories are hijacked and either told for them or not at all. We see sex workers almost nightly on primetime dramas, but rarely do sex workers themselves get the opportunity to tell their stories, in their own words, to an audience of millions.

Enter King, who used social media to craft a cinematic tale, punctuated by street colloquialisms and an astute use of emojis to communicate a subtext that went viral. The story, which came just in time for Halloween, prompted more than a few Zola-themed costumes, even capturing the attention of celebrities such as rapper Missy Elliott. I, too, found myself gasping out loud at some of the plot twists.

King spins a “based on a true story” tale of a fast friendship between two sex workers who embark on a trip to Florida in search of stripper gold — the promise of thousands of dollars made in just a single weekend. But their trip quickly spirals down a rabbit hole of kidnapping, trafficking, attempted suicide, and, eventually, murder.

Zola's story reads like a cautionary tale of how criminalization and stigma put young sex workers at risk of exploitation. One character gets outed as an escort on Facebook, and later, Zola realizes that reporting their trafficker to the police is not an option, because she would face criminal charges herself.

Many people felt hers was a yarn too wild to be rooted in reality, and several headlines questioning the veracity of her tale began to gain traction. But the specifics and even the truth of the story aren't as important as the cultural reaction to it, which has been disturbingly light given the current human trafficking hysteria in the United States.

King's account seems plausible until near the end, when a face-off with a handgun and a pimp devolves into a cuckolding scene straight out of racist porno. The climax of the drama unfolds with an epic rescue, an off-screen murder, and a cartoonish failed suicide attempt.

Two characters from Zola's story have come out with their own versions, which differ from Zola's mostly in nuance — specifically, regarding who is implicated in which crimes. The Washington Post reported that upon further investigation the suicide attempt and murder were most likely embellishments. As with most stories, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

But it seems as though Zola has only done what any narrative writer would do when adapting a real life story into entertainment: Raise the stakes, and fudge the details, timeline, and facts to make everything fit into the constraints of the medium. King simply did it on her own terms.

While the events were anything but “hilarious” — as many have commented — King's candor and humor, juxtaposed against the violence and drama of the tale, remind readers of her agency throughout. She maintains an even-tempered coolness, reminding us that she refuses to be cast as either victim or villain, the two roles that mainstream media usually casts sex workers as.

Author and journalist Neely Tucker, also of the Post, complimented King's original, dynamic voice, calling it “really great crime writing.” Rumors of book, film, and televisions adaptations have already flooded the internet, with casting predictions and even an unofficial theatrical trailer using Bratz dolls to portray the two female characters. Now that King has our attention, she has plenty of strategies on how to keep it, already announcing plans to release merchandise, including adorable crop tops, hats, and phone cases emblazoned with meme-worthy quotes from her story, like “Imma full nude typa bitch,” and my favorite, “#Hoeism.”

Though Zola's story and the media storm surrounding it are riddled with problematic components — trafficking, non-consensual outing, and whore-archy — it's a cultural phenomenon worth celebrating, as it exemplifies how the democratization of media can change the game of storytelling, especially for marginalized people. Last month, the world stopped and listened in rapt attention to what a black, working-class sex worker had to say about trafficking based on her own lived experience, and today we are still talking about what she told us— a practice I hope stays long after #TheStory has stopped trending.