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Sounds Like James Franco is Columbussing Zola’s Story (UPDATE: Zola is Involved)

Remember the chaos-filled story that a stripped named Zola tweeted (read: Lessons from Zola’s Story: The Great Saga of Trapping and Mayhem)? Of course you do. The epic tale took us all by storm and the internet spent like a week talking about it, which by today’s standards is a long time on one topic. Celebrities chimed in on how they were hooked and EVERYONE saw the movie potential of this.

Yesterday, it was announced that James Franco is adapting “the Greatest Stripper Saga Ever Tweeted” for the screen. I immediately winced, even from seeing just the headline.

seriously gif

And then I clicked through to have my fears confirmed and I wanted to dropkick every trashcan in a 25 mile radius.

I am not okay with it.

In the Vanity Fair piece I read about it, nowhere was it mentioned if Zola herself will be involved with this production. Same for this Rolling Stone piece. Instead, it’s James who will direct and star in it. The script was written by Andrew Neel and Mike Roberts.

WHAT PART IS ZOLA HERSELF PLAYING IN ALL OF THIS??? Will she be compensated for this? Will she get producer’s credit? Will she be allowed on set as a consultant? None of that was mentioned in the piece.

Just to be sure, I Googled Andrew and Mike and they’re also of course, White Men.

James Franco

Don’t cheat our girl, James.

What this gives me is PURE COLUMBUSSING VIBES. And if there’s anything white men can do really well, it’s to take the ideas of others, profit from them and then erase the originator. That is their superpower.

Also, finding the tiny role they played in something and making it seem like it matters more than it really did. The story Zola told was about the trapping her and Jessica did, and the only white dude in the story must be who James will be playing. The one who tried to throw himself over the balcony, with his lack of coping skills having ass.

So no, I’m not here for this. A story told by a Black woman is now being directed by a white man and she is barely getting any credit. Her work is being taken on a large scale and it feels like she’s the afterthought in all of it.

This is Zola. And I hope she's getting paid for this film

This is Aziah “Zola” Wells. And I hope she’s getting paid for this film

If I’m wrong here and she’s somehow a major part of James’ project, please let me know. But from the way it is being reported, she isn’t even a footnote. Even THAT is a significant problem.

If it was an oversight to leave her out of the coverage of the Franco news, it’s a massive one. But more likely is that she is not even a part of this. They got all the information they needed to make it happen from her tweets, and cut her out. And since tweets are a public domain, I’m not sure what her rights would be if they did decide to do just that.

BTW, intellectual property lawyers, feel free to chime in on this in the comments. Speaking of, I got my IP attorney Patrice Perkins to write a piece on Hashtags as Intellectual Property: How to Own and Claim Them on my tech blog, Awesomely Techie. Why? Because we give away A LOT of brilliance on Twitter, and even hashtags could potentially be trademarked.

All I do know is that this doesn’t sit well with my spirit. I also wish a Black woman was chosen to direct this.


P.P.S. I woulda written something about Joseph Fiennes playing Michael Jackson but I figured a post with font that is 100 points, and just says FUCK THIS SHIT is not really a post. So I didn’t.

EDIT: Zola commented on my post on Instagram and said she’s involved with the film.

Zola Involved

So I guess he’s not Columbussing, as much as he’s just another white dude telling a Black woman’s story. Chile, I guess. Good for Zola, though. Get these coins, ma’am! I hope they are plentiful and that they are what she deserves to get.

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  1. February 5, 2016 at 12:56 pm

    WELP! Sounds about right.

  2. sarida
    February 5, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    i had the same question when i heard about this … where is Zola? Somebody help young sis get her bread. it is her story.

  3. February 5, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    Stories abounded of Franco when he was simultaneously getting his MFA degree, starring in some film, and taking selfies, all while supposedly teaching at one of the Ivies. The story was that starstruck students were doing his MFA work for him, and he was collecting the rewards. or he had farmed out his teaching to lesser beings. Something like that. Regardless of which, it was a big, fat explanation of how he could be multi-tasking.
    Franco bogarting someone else’s story and calling it “mine?”
    No surprise.

  4. Alicia
    February 5, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    I’m sure she is getting credit it for it. Nearly every work of art that is adapted in to film gives the author credit and uses them as an advisor for the direction of the film and usually their role in the film is rarely mention in the press releases or articles announcing new movies based on certain works . I actually like James Franco films and this is so up his alley and the fact that it is still being called the Zola movie or story (with her real name too) indicates it’s definitely her story being told likely with her input. Normally, I’d be with you, I think you’re overacting on this one. . .

    • February 5, 2016 at 1:46 pm

      I don’t think I’m overreacting. I hate that stories told by Black people don’t get replicated by other Black people. And again, UNTIL someone can show me the terms of this deal, which states that Zola will be compensated for sure, being so sure that she is a part of this is an assumption.

      • Lorenzo
        February 5, 2016 at 2:16 pm

        Terms of the deal aren’t your business. They’re theirs. Your edit makes clear that your assumptions were wrong. Columbusing = Telling black stories
        Not allowing columbusing = get off your ass (you and/or Zola) and tell these stories before somebody else does.
        Good stories get told.

  5. Milaxx
    February 5, 2016 at 2:01 pm

    So basically this is going to be SpringBreakers 2?

    • February 6, 2016 at 10:03 pm

      My thought exactly. Nothing Franco has done indicates he is versed in this world or prepared to tell this story the way the author shared it. I can see the story edits already, turning this into a mainstream mess…
      But in her Instagram response she said, she’s involved and the reports are inaccurate. However, she does not say what isn’t true. Goodness, I hope she does actually know what is going on…

  6. Kay
    February 5, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I would guess that they called her in to tell the entire story so that they could write their little script, paid her some nominal fee that a stripper might consider “a lot” and sent her on her way. This is why they say knowledge is power — her first move should have been collecting the tweets, copyrighting them as a story, then talking to people about rights purchases. But she may have been too busy soaking up all of the attention. Black people on social media have to stop trading in their financial power for attention. Get educated

  7. HoneyDipt
    February 5, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    I need for her to make sure she gets a good attorney to go over the terms of that contract better than she went of the terms of that trip with Jess ????! And by the gods make sure to retain some creative control over her character so those white men don’t ratchet up her ratchet and dial down her brains… Cuz it takes a fair amount of brains to have been in that situation and have it be a story in the rearview.

  8. Jaleda
    February 5, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    Gotta disagree with you on this one, Luvvie.

    It’s standard in movies/film that someone pays someone for the their idea and then develops it as a movie. That’s called a “story by” credit, which she will probably share with the guy from Rolling Stone. I could bet a whole lotta money that she got paid (I mean, comeon, they’re using her story and talking about it on the internet which would make them totally liable.)

    That said, in my opinion? She’s lucky this happened mostly cause: Zola is not a writer. Writing 148 twitter posts does not make someone a professional screenwriter. Screenwriting is a craft. She told the right story at the right time that captured the internet’s imagination. Can she tell a good story? Yes. Translating that into a script is a whole other situation.

    As to the question of white men telling our stories? Well, he’s probably the one who paid her the most $$, which is why she (and the guy who wrote about it for Rolling Stone) took the offer. This was not a case of somebody stealing her story. There are plenty of Black producers out there who heard this story who either didn’t jump on it or didn’t pay as much for the rights.

    And finally, the thing that pisses me off the most about this whole thing? Out of all the stories there are, do we REALLY need another story about a Black woman who’s a hooker? I mean, come on! I never felt the Zola story for that very reason.

    • Donnie E.
      February 5, 2016 at 3:26 pm

      Very well said! Very good points! I mean, we’re getting mad that white men a producing a story told by a black woman. But is a another black stripper story doing anything good for our black community? And you’re also right in saying that there are plenty of black producers and screenwriters out there…..I would love to know how the battle for the rights to this story went down. Whatever happened, miss Zola doesn’t seem too upset, so I say let the girl get her life and get this SHMONEY! Ionno Luv, I’m not so sure I’m 100% with you on this one babe.

    • MommieDearest
      February 5, 2016 at 9:31 pm

      “Out of all the stories there are, do we REALLY need another story about a Black woman who’s a hooker? ”

      I’m so glad you said that. I feel the exact same way. In fact, IMO, that’s the very reason these two white men are jumping on the story. Shoot, I’m surprised Quinton Tarrantino’s obsessed-with-black-people-and-black-dysfunction-and-using-the-n-word azz hasn’t snapped this up. This kind of crap is right up his alley.

  9. February 5, 2016 at 2:40 pm

    Now we know she in involved, I CANNOT WAIT for this movie. I just hope the directors don’t eff it up. :/

  10. Lizzy B
    February 5, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    Luvvie, I’m irritated by this mess but as a young Black woman and producer in Los Angeles, I can personally attest to the fact that this is just the side effect of a bigger problem. As soon as the James Franco story broke, I googled a few pictures of every person involved to see whether they were all caucasian and – as you mentioned in the article – they are. That in a nutshell is what bothers me the most about the whole thing. I didn’t doubt for a second that Zola would have some kind of part in this film as all of the article’s I’ve read call the project “Zola’s Story” and also I follow her on Instagram and saw that she was excited about a phone call she recently had. So as a commenter above mentioned, she’s probably going to get a “Story by” credit on the feature. And I figured that she would be approached by a big name that could offer her a competitive amount of money for her story rights.

    Going back a few months, when she told her trapping story in the first place, my first thought was ‘I wish I had the money to option the rights to this story.’ With all of the attention her story was getting, I knew I wouldn’t have a chance against the competition in hollywood who make it their business to edge out the newbies or people who don’t have stacks of cash sitting around ready to offer up front. And I’m sure James Franco isn’t the first producer to approach her about this. Big studios, celebrities, Indie producers (with money), directors and basically people with financial/industry leverage actually hire people to scan the inter webs looking for cool stories, web series, trending topics/people/events/etc. from which to create projects. (I know because I’ve had several jobs like this). Her twitter story was gold (…GOLD I tell you!)

    So I’m writing this thesis to tell you that White people (who have been running Hollywood since its beginnings and have had better access to money and opportunities since this country’s founding) are able to snatch up opportunities like this because when they offer her a contract up front, they can guarantee her a competitive fee (edging newbies out of the market). But she will probably not be making nearly as much as Franco and friends will make on the back end. At the end of the day, seeing that this story will be written, directed and produced by White men saddens me. Zola is smart and her storytelling is funny/unique/fresh/just overall dope and I don’t know that I trust these “bros” to write her as anything but “ghetto/hood”. Also, I hope that her manager/lawyer is making sure her contract is not one of those “thanks for the story now step the f– off” type situations because that’s a big thing in Hollywood too.

    • aimsisiht
      February 5, 2016 at 5:15 pm

      Hi, I’m currently enrolled in a screenplay writing class in my hometown. When I have something ready may I send it to you? We all have to start somewhere. 🙂

  11. Darcey
    February 8, 2016 at 5:45 pm

    ” All I do know is……. ” Yes ma’am LOL!

  12. February 8, 2016 at 6:13 pm

    Intellectual property lawyer here. Huge fan of your blog Luvvie! Since you insisted, I wanted to flesh out a little what’s going on here with Zola.

    First, there is a difference between trademark and copyright protection. Trademark protects brands. It allows an owner of a mark (ex. slogan or logo) to prevent others from using it in association with the same/similar products or services that the owner does. For example, you better believe Apple would go after a company that tried to use a bitten Apple on its phones or laptops.

    Copyright protects creative expression. It protects certain type of works, which includes literary works. Zola’s work could qualify for protection as it meets the copyright requirements: it’s a literary work that is original, minimally creative, and could be fixed in a tangible medium (she could print it out on paper).

    Second, Zola’s putting out tweets on Twitter does not put her work in the public domain (where it could be used freely by everyone without a need for Zola’s permission). Aside: putting your work out in the public is actually necessary if you want to gain some important benefits of copyright protection. 

    There is only one way for works to enter the public domain: for the copyright duration to expire. Currently, for a work created today by a single author, the duration is 70 years after the author has died. Basically a really long time.

    Third, as I suspected, James Franco and the other writers sought Zola’s permission to use her work. Once someone has a copyright in a work, she could license its use to others. That’s what J.K. Rowling did with her Harry Potter books when she let them be made into films. Since licensing is done in private, we can never know what happens.

    Glad Zola was involved. If she wasn’t, she could have had a valid claim for copyright infringement.

    • Lizzy B
      February 9, 2016 at 5:59 pm

      So I’m looking into optioning the rights to an old book but couldn’t remember exactly how many years after the author’s death before it becomes public domain. Clicked on Luvvie’s site (to procrastinate, of course) and your comment made me jump out of my seat! Haha! Thank you!!! 🙂