Woman using tiktok filter; woman explaining what Zapotha IS

@lizisjustbeingsilly/TikTok @emilyjeffri/TikTok

‘Zepotha’: Why this fake 1980s horror movie is all over TikTok

Starting out as a hoax meme, 'Zepotha' quickly inspired its own fandom - and controversy.


Gavia Baker-Whitelaw

Internet Culture

Posted on Aug 15, 2023

Following in the footsteps of Tumblr’s fake Martin Scorsese movie Goncharov, TikTokers have invented their own imaginary film: Zepotha. However, it’s already facing accusations of being a viral marketing stunt.

Pitched as a 1980s horror movie, Zepotha is the brainchild of indie musician Emily Jeffri. In a TikTok posted on Aug. 11, she suggested “a new bit idea” where people comment on strangers’ thirst traps to say they look like characters from Zepotha.

“we can convince thousands of people that this weirdly titled 80s horror film actually exists,” she wrote.

@emilyjeffri putting this song forward as the movie’s main theme, i think it has zepotha vibes tbh #80s #nostalgia #horror #horrormovie #80shorror #bit #trickster #moohaha #newmusic #queerartist #spooky #zepotha ♬ DO YOU REMEMBER ME – jeffri

The background music on this TikTok is Jeffri’s vaguely Stranger Things-adjacent synth track “WHERE ARE THEY NOW??” As the meme went viral, the song did too.

As of now, the Zepotha hashtag boasts more than 100 million views. Some people were fooled into thinking it was a real film, and TikTokers started posting their own Zepotha media like cosplay videos, a Zepotha character filter, or influencer AJ Clementine pretending she just got cast in a remake.

@stanzipotenza Did a Jane from Zepotha cosplay for you guys #xyzbca #fyp #zepotha ♬ original sound – Dreamkid

guess which character i’m playing 🎃 i hope it’s camp like the og zepotha


What is Zepotha about?

The spread of Zepotha highlights the difference between Tumblr and TikTok meme culture. On paper, the idea of a fake, crowdsourced movie is very similar to Goncharov. But while Tumblr users developed sophisticated lore around Goncharov’s plot, cast, and themes, this TikTok meme is comparatively simple – and far less coherent.

Everyone agrees that Zepotha is a 1980s horror movie, and there are a bunch of established characters like Alain, Danny, Cole, and Maxine. Beyond that, there’s little clarity on the film’s overall concept and subgenre. Some TikTokers describe it as dystopian, while others compare it to slasher movies or coming-of-age stories like Stephen King’s IT.

@abetophyaoi for the new fans! #lgbtq #lagrasamesalvo #fypp #zepothamovie #zepothaalaine #maxinezepotha #zepotha #fyp #real #imgay #stantwicenow ♬ original sound – mikol / mike
@cocoayumyums I WANTED TO BE HER SO BADDDD, BEST ZEPOTHA CHARACTER😭 #zepotha #indiehorror ♬ DO YOU REMEMBER ME – jeffri

Lore issues aside though, fans are hard at work creating fan cams and clips for the film. There’s also an impressively plausible remake trailer by model Hayley Kalil.

@xbxnana_ thank to @jeffri for making Zepotha popular again! absolutely my favourite film ever #zepotha #zepothamovie #rita #cole #movie #80s #80smovie #fy #foryou #CapCut #edit #zepothaedit #maxine #maxinezepotha #horrormovie #80shorror #alaine #alainezepotha #colezepotha #zepothacharacters ♬ DO YOU REMEMBER ME – jeffri
@rllyroman Zepotha is definitely my favourite Summer Slasher || #zepotha #zepothaedit #zepothamovie #edit #horror #horrortok #horroredit ♬ original sound – roman

With Zepotha fever spreading fast, the meme’s creator announced plans for a short film contest. She says the winning entry will receive a £500 cash prize and will “become canon in the zepotha universe.”

Many fans seem excited to participate, but Zepotha does have some detractors – especially on Tumblr, where people object to the idea of an “official” canon or a commercial contest involving strict creative guidelines.

The consensus on Tumblr is that Zepotha is a shallow or inauthentic copy of the Goncharov phenomenon, lacking a sense of collaborative creativity.

Is Zepotha a viral marketing ploy?

Zepotha also invites more cynical interpretations than Goncharov, because the meme’s creator Emily Jeffri used one of her songs in the original TikTok. The virality of this post helps to promote her upcoming album, “SOUNDTRACK FOR AN 80’S HORROR MOVIE.”

As the meme spread, other TikTokers used Jeffri’s music in their own TikToks – a common technique for musicians to market their work on the app. The song now has almost 10 million listens on Spotify.

Viral audio clips are such an unremarkable element of TikTok meme culture that this attracted relatively little criticism. More than 10,000 TikToks feature Jeffri’s song, but only a handful argue that Zepotha doubles as marketing for Jeffri’s album:

@maiac.etc props to the original girl for a killer marketing scheme though #zepotha #hater ♬ Haters Anthem – Infinity Song

Meanwhile, the “marketing stunt” viewpoint is a dominant theme on Tumblr, with some users accusing Jeffri’s short film contest of being unpaid promotional labor for her album.

So in addition to Tumblr’s gripes about Zepotha being less creative than Goncharov, this illustrates the contrast between Tumblr and TikTok’s relationships with brands and marketing.

Tumblr culture has a staunchly anti-capitalist vibe, rejecting branded accounts and sponsored content. Meanwhile, TikTokers are more comfortable with advertising, whether it’s stuff like the Grimace Shake meme, influencer accounts, or the way viral audio clips can become a stepping stone for mainstream clout.

TikTokers are happy to have fun with Zepotha, even if they’re advertising something at the same time.

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*First Published: Aug 15, 2023, 9:37 am CDT