Now, before you all come for me… Is Hustlers an amazing film? Yes. I mean, I’m a gay man who’s obsessed with Cardi B, Lizzo, and J.Lo, so Hustlers could literally be a piece of sh*t spread on toast and I would still convince everyone I know to see it. Fortunately, it’s not sh*t spread on toast, but delicious avocado toast topped with perfectly ripened heirloom tomatoes, a gloriously poached egg, and a beautiful sriracha drizzle—but does avocado toast deserve an Oscar? I mean, does Hustlers deserve an Oscar? The reviews have been excellent, with rogerebert.com saying it’s J.Lo’s best work since 1997’s Selena. The Hollywood Reporter called it J.Lo’s best film to date, and Hollywood superwoman Shonda Rhimes tweeted that she only leaves her house for a movie every five years, and Hustlers is the one. For all intents and purposes, this movie is screaming “give me an Oscar,” so what’s the f*cking issue? Well, as it turns out, the woman who lived the real-life story has a major issue with it, and fittingly, like the bad bitch she’s portrayed as in the film, she’s not going down without a fight.
The film, directed by actor/writer/director Lorene Scafaria, has grossed $62 Million, tripling its budget in only 10 days, which is like…a really good ROI. (That means Return On Investment, which means that one class I actually showed up to in college did teach me something.) The premiere at the Toronto Film Festival was apparently iconic, with a 2,500-person standing ovation and guests immediately whispering that J.Lo deserved an Oscar for her performance as Ramona, the queen-pin of the strip club turned queen-pin of drugging and robbing men.
The movie tells the multi-year story of J.Lo’s character, Ramona, and Constance Wu’s character, Destiny going from making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year stripping in Manhattan before the 2008 financial crisis to drugging men and maxing out their credit cards in 2013. Cardi B essentially plays herself, with only a few brief scenes, including one of her grabbing Destiny’s hair and calling her a bitch for accidentally trying to take one of her clients on her first day, which was amazing, and something I’ve done to coworkers while serving tables before. Lizzo appears even less than Cardi, but somehow manages to sneak her famous flute playing into her scene, and Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart both are great in their roles as underling members of Ramona’s crew. One scene in particular, with a half-naked and six-inch-heeled Keke Palmer running through a parking garage screaming, had me laughing out loud, and Lili’s character’s nervous puking adds a welcome lightness to some otherwise dark scenes.
All in all, it’s a very good movie. J.Lo looks absolutely incredible, and one scene where men are tossing singles on her while she does a sultry pole dance to Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” had me questioning if my sexuality actually was a choice. Constance Wu is… fine, and Julia Stiles could be played by literally anyone (I’m sorry, but it’s true). I could have played Julia Stiles’ character, and the fact that I wasn’t even discussed during casting is a catastrophic overlook, but I didn’t let that influence my thinking while watching the film.
The thing about it is, at no time while watching did I think this movie was going to garner Oscar buzz, and I don’t really know how to feel about the fact that it has. Let me be very clear about something, I f*cking love J.Lo, and if she won an Oscar I would be crying before she got to the stage, but then again my favorite movies of all time are Sister Act and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, so like…who am I to be judging? After all, Bridesmaids scored nominations for Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy, Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar for only 16 minutes of screen time in Silence of the Lambs, and Anne Hathaway got her Oscar for a mere 15-minute choppy AF haircut in Les Miserables. So with the rules of what qualifies as Oscar-worthy clearly not set in stone, why not consider Hustlers? I suppose that pesky little fact that the person behind the story didn’t get paid for it to be told.
The movie is based on the 2015 New York Magazine article, “The Hustlers at Scores,” written by real-life New York Magazine journalist Jessica Pressler (played by the lackluster Julia Stiles). The movie is told through the narration of the article’s main character, Roselyn Keo, renamed Destiny and portrayed by Wu for the movie. J.Lo’s character, Ramona, is based on Samantha Barbash, aka Samantha Foxx, who is currently threatening a lawsuit against STX Entertainment, the studio behind Hustlers. Samantha says she was lowballed to sign away the rights to her story, and according to her lawyer, she “unequivocally rejected all offers to be included in the film.” She claims that J.Lo never spoke to her before or during filming the movie, and she is now writing her own book about her story.
Pressler’s article and the film actually seem to stick pretty close together, with some direct lines from the article used in the film, such as, “You can’t feel bad! If we don’t do it, somebody else will do it.”
My hesitation with fully believing the movie’s story comes from the troubling fact that we don’t quite know what about the article is true. Pressler wasn’t able to fact check a lot of what Roselyn, known as Rosie, told her when she was writing it. After beginning the article by saying “according to Rosie” several times, Pressler clarifies, “I say ‘according to Rosie’ because her family did not respond to interview requests, and because Rosie is an admitted liar with multiple pending felony charges. Still, she is occasionally prone to offering up indisputable truths.” While some of the story may be fabricated, some aspects must be true, because the fact remains that men really were drugged and robbed, with one Queens strip club bartender pleading guilty last year to being in cahoots in overcharging the credit cards of two men who were drugged by strippers.
Hustlers is told in a similar fashion to 2017’s Oscar-nominated I, Tonya, with the main character narrating her own rags-to-riches-back-to-rags story while establishing an emotional connection with the audience that goes beyond whatever shady sh*t they may have done. (By the way, Nancy Kerrigan still competed in the 1994 Olympics, so like…get the f*ck over it.) The difference, however, is that Samantha Barbash more than likely won’t be sitting in the audience as J.Lo’s guest at the Golden Globes as Tonya Harding did with Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Allison ended up winning the Oscar for her portrayal of Tonya’s mother; Margot was nominated for best actress for her portrayal of Tonya, but lost to Frances McDormand.
So aside from the question of whether or not Hustlers deserves an Oscar for the remarkable story, the way it’s been told, and/or J.Lo and Constance Wu’s performances, the fact that the real-life subject of the story is unhappy remains, and this should not be brushed over. I suppose we’ll find out whether or not the Academy will take that into consideration come February. With that being said, I would let J.Lo use me as her own personal red carpet if she wanted to.
Images: Getty Images; Giphy (3)
Stripping is a legitimate job that requires lots of different skills.
A standout moment in the movie is when Destiny (played by Constance Wu) is giving a dance and a man asks her, “What happened to you that made you do this?” This is a typical kind of question from a male customer. It’s condescending, rude, and ignorant. These dudes come into the club looking to buy what we have to offer, and they say sh*t like this, implying that what we do isn’t valuable or worthy, and that we must only be doing it because we are damaged goods. Sex work is work, and I think Hustlers does a good job of showing how it’s very much a job that requires a set of skills. You have to learn how to read and work people, how to charm people, how to be confident, plus how to walk and dance in six-inch heels. It’s fun and empowering, and it’s also exhausting. It’s a job. I hope when you saw Destiny exiting the club as the sun was coming up, you thought, “Damn, girl,” because that moment is very real.
While stripping can and should be empowering, the system it works within is broken.
The first act of Hustlers essentially shows us the working conditions for a stripper. Granted, the film takes place about a decade ago, but a lot of the industry standards remain the same. We see Destiny go through a long night of working, only to have to hand over a chunk of her earnings to her boss. Most clubs work in a way that cushions the pockets of the men in charge, and takes advantage of the women doing all of the heavy lifting. In most clubs, strippers are not paid any sort of wage. Instead, they have to pay the club for the “privilege” of working there.
I’ve noticed in the way management speaks to us, it is often implied that we are disposable and lucky to be given the opportunity to make money at their club. We have to pay a house fee every shift. In my experience, this ranges form $40-$100 per shift, depending on when you arrive (the house fee goes up as the night goes on). On top of this, you have to tip out other people on the staff, because they also make their money on tips.
And, while the first act of the movie shows how hard it can be, it eventually transforms to these women making insane amounts of money, because a plot of a movie must progress. But something I find myself often explaining to people is that stripping is very inconsistent work. Some nights I feel like JLo in the scene where she bathes in money and I take home two months’ rent in one night. Other nights I owe the club money after working the floor for six hours because I didn’t even make enough to pay my house fee.
Hustlers shows that strippers endure tough working conditions that require them to hustle hard, so instead of shaming them for what they choose to do, we should support and stand by them.
Not all strippers are trying to rob you.
Sure, this film is based on a true story about a group of strippers who came up with a master plan on how to rob some super rich Wall Street guys. But I think Hustlers makes a point to show the situation these women were in that led them to do doing what they did: a financial crash that took away their business and a need to survive and support themselves and their families. It also includes a line from Destiny reiterating that this is not what all strippers do, which I really appreciated and hope you noted. As someone who has worked at the club that Hustlers is based off of, I can say firsthand that I’ve never witnessed anything like this scandal there. This was a unique situation, and it made major headlines because of what a big, and uncommon, story it was. It is an exception.
Strippers are hustlers and we are smart people who persuade people (often rich men) to spend their money, but that doesn’t mean all strippers are going to drug and rob you. It’s an interesting story, but it is not the norm. So, please don’t watch and support this movie and then use it as an excuse to stay away from strip clubs and not support actual strippers. Hollywood shouldn’t be the only one making money off the dazzling world of strip clubs.
Sisterhood exists at the strip club.
In the past, I’ve noticed that when strippers are portrayed in film and TV they are often pitted against one another. People who have never worked in a strip club assume it’s every stripper for themselves and highly competitive. Hustlers showed audiences an authentic strip club, where yes, you should not cut in on another stripper’s client, but you also work best when working together. The only time they show the competitive aspect is when Destiny tries to talk to a man who is watching Diamond on stage. That’s not a good move, and Destiny figures that out when Diamond grabs her hair and tells her to f*ck off. But she also learns that becoming friends with her coworkers and combining their powers is not only lucrative, but essential to staying happy at work.
A line from the original article written about the scandal, entitled “The Hustlers of Scores,” says, “While evolutionary theory and The Bachelor would suggest that a room full of women hoping to attract the attention of a few men would be cutthroat-competitive, it’s actually better for strippers to work together, because while most men might be able keep their wits, and their wallets, around one scantily clad, sweet-smelling sylph, they tend to lose their grip around three or four.” This is absolutely true. Plus, working with a bunch of women who have seen your pussy is honestly a blast, and I love my sisters at the club. They keep me sane.
Strippers put up with a lot of stigmatizing bullsh*t.
While I’m proud of the work I do, I also know the world, for the most part, is not. My hope is that Hustlers will help people clock their unfair judgements about strippers. Being represented in mainstream media means a lot, and having a cast of strippers that the audience is meant to sympathize with is helpful. But I hope people don’t leave their enthusiasm and “yaassss queen” energy at the theater door. I have seen people gushing over this movie and over the cast, but I hope they realize that while, yes, JLo is a goddess, so are the strippers she and the rest of the cast are portraying here. Something I hear way too often from my clients is, “You are too smart to be working here.” They think it’s a compliment, but really it’s a belittling dismissal of the hard work that I and my fellow strippers do. You’ll notice that I wrote this article anonymously, because unfortunately, I still feel as though there are people in my life or in the professional world who would view me differently and less positively if they discovered that I do this work. That sucks. I hope Hustlers helps you see that strippers are amazing, smart, funny, clever, badass b*tches who deserve your respect. And TBH, your money.
Stripping is a form of sex work, and all sex work is work.
Nothing bums me out more than people rationing their compassion, especially when it comes to sex work. If you saw Hustlers and discovered that you respect the work that strippers do, don’t stop there. Make sure to respect and support all sex workers. Different people provide different services, and the details of those services shouldn’t dictate what respect you have for them. Different strokes for different folks, babe. No need to judge.
And please, for the love of God, remember that sex work is completely separate from sex trafficking. I’m not asking you to support the latter. I’m asking you to realize that consenting adults choose to make a living from the former, and they are often shamed and penalized for it. Let’s change that, shall we?
Images: Getty Images, Giphy (2)
Good news: Cardi B has spent the last tw0 years taking over music, and now she’s turning her attention to movies. On Tuesday, STX Films announced their new project Hustlers, and I’m already positive it’s going to be my favorite movie of all time. In addition to Cardi B making her film debut, the movie is packed with badass women like Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, and Julia Stiles. I could write an essay about how much I love each of these women, but for now I will try to keep it to a minimum. The movie also stars Mercedes Ruehl, who you might not know, but she’s an Oscar winner and I saw her in a play last year and she is fierce as f*ck. Moving on.
First of all, the movie is being written, directed, and produced by a woman named Lorene Scafaria, who also directed Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Good to know that we’ve got boss women on both sides of the camera for this one. The movie is based on a New York Magazine article from 2015, and it centers on a true story. Get ready, because the plot is a wild ride. The main characters are a bunch of strippers who band together to get revenge on a bunch of gross Wall Street dudes. This sounds like all my revenge porn fantasies! Here’s the subheading of the article: “Here’s a modern Robin Hood story for you: a few strippers who stole from (mostly) rich, (usually) disgusting, (in their minds) pathetic men and gave to, well, themselves.” This is the 2019 mood, and I am 100% here for it.
If you think the story sounds amazing, that’s because it totally is. It centers around Rosie, an enterprising stripper who came up with a complex operation to scam rich men. Basically, they would drug the guys, steal their credit cards, spend a sh*tload of money, then convince the dudes nothing was wrong when they woke up. Okay, like yes, these are clearly CRIMES, but also, I respect it? If this writing thing doesn’t work out for me, that’s probably gonna be my next move. The real Rosie is Asian American, so I would guess that she’ll be played by Constance Wu, and J.Lo is probably playing an older stripper/mentor named Samantha. I’m not sure who Cardi B will play, but I’m excited nonetheless.
There are many reasons to be excited for this movie, but I have to say that Cardi B’s involvement is the most intriguing thing for me. She’s obviously one of the most entertaining people on the planet, but I’m already imagining her trying to memorize lines, and it’s hilarious. Hopefully they’ll give her a few cues and just kinda let her improvise on set, because you can’t even write the sh*t that comes out of her mouth. At least she has the real-life experience of being a stripper, so maybe she can show Constance Wu and Lili Reinhart a thing or two on the pole in exchange for some acting lessons. Dark Betty will thank her. (I doubt J.Lo needs any pointers, based on her insane workout routine.)
Sadly, it’s going to be a while before we can see Cardi B and her A-list crew ruining men’s lives on the big screen. The movie is scheduled to start shooting at the end of this week, so if I had to guess, it’ll probably come out next summer. This is a long time to wait, but I have full confidence that it’ll be worth it.
Images: Shutterstock; @jlo / Instagram; Giphy