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“Hustlers” Brings Us A New Kind Of Girl Gang

by Joline Faujour

Hustlers spoilers ahead.

Hustlers is just as thrilling as it might sound, starring Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, and others as a group of strippers who are hustling for their money – then, ultimately, hustling others. Lorene Scafaria wrote the screenplay based off a true story, and the group acts like a squad of modern day “feminist Robin Hoods,” stealing money from the rich men who visit their strip club. The film takes a pretty dark turn when that hustle has the women caught up in a dangerous scheme that involves drugging the men and leaving them for dead. The movie features an all-star cast: not just Lopez and Wu, but Lili Reinhart, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, and Madeline Brewer. Usher makes an appearance as himself (because he can), and other favorites, such as Lizzo and Cardi B, show up too.

Hustlers is inspired by the New York Magazine article written by Jessica Pressler, who’s also in the movie under another name and is played by Stiles. The article went viral in 2015, and in the movie we find out (a fictionalized version of) what happened before, during, and after the story was published.

The story took years to write as the facts were pretty murky, and it looks like they still are. It’s still worth a read, though: the piece looks into the psyche of these strippers, and while its tone (which is kept throughout the movie, too) can be pretty fun, the psychology isn’t. As the New York Magazine article reads, the strippers view those who visit their strip club as rich, disgusting, and pathetic men who work on Wall Street, and men with little or no respect for the women and their industry. This just makes the story all the more complicated when the hustlers turn the tables on these rich and powerful older men, even as the scheme spins out of control.

The movie follows the stories of the strippers, mainly Dorothy (Wu), whose stripper name is Destiny, and Ramona (Lopez). They’re strippers who become fast friends upon finding out how well they work together as a team, when it comes to the strip club and also the scam. This movie is called Hustlers for a reason, and the most thrilling part is the fast-paced survival instincts that these women have. The two are fed up with the lack of respect that they receive from their customers, and band up with two others, Reinhart and Palmer, and, of course, that’s when things start to get out of hand.

It’s scary because we don’t necessarily know what’s true or not. The movie, grossing at $33 million in its opening weekend and starring such a dream cast, might be more of a romanticized version of the true story. The New York Magazine article delves into what might and might not be fact, and partial truths, et cetera. And the longer it’s been, the more the facts will fade: and while tons of facts and interviews were gathered for the New York Magazine article and the blockbuster, there were gaps. Notably, Samantha Barbash, the basis for Lopez’s Ramona, declined all offers to participate in the making of the movie. Barbash also barely participated in the New York Magazine article, and only spoke off the record. She doesn’t believe that the movie portrayed much of what’s really happened and aggrandized a lot of what has. Barbash told Vanity Fair that she “wasn’t really that impressed” with the movie, but that she “was impressed with Jennifer. She was incredible. Her body looked incredible. She had it down to a T, but it wasn’t factual.”

Despite the blurred truth and Barbash’s critiques, there are those who have noticed that the movie took a refreshingly feminist angle for a film about strippers, centering these dancers and their stories, and the relationships and support between the dancers. And many have taken note that the film’s setting, and the friendships forged in and out of the club, felt very true-to-life. As Lily Burana wrote in Vulture, “The acrylic French tips, the Bebe separates, Ramona’s at-home tanning bed – I respected the hell out of it. I’m not saying the movie made me feel comfortable, but it did make me feel recognized.”

The stripping and dancing throughout the movie, and glitzy performances by Lopez and the rest of the cast, are definitely all reasons this film is a must-see and, of course, reflect why the men were so easily scammed. Ramona asserts that “this whole city, this whole country, is one big strip club,” which is food for thought upon leaving the theater.

Photo via Hustlers / STXfilms

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