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Real-Life Inspiration For ‘Hustlers’ Sues J.Lo For $40M For Defamation

by Mayzie Hopkins

 The idea of having a film made about yourself, narcissist or not, sounds great in theory. You get to watch a ninety-plus minute, romanticized version of you played by a better-looking actor or actress on screen and see how you’re perceived by others, which most have always wondered about— at least, I do.

Yet, the 2019 film Hustlers real-life protagonist Samantha Barbash, played by Jennifer Lopez, is unhappy with the way she was portrayed and is now suing the actresses production company for $40 million dollars. Maybe unhappy is an understatement.

Hustlers was inspired by the Jessica Pressler New York Magazine article about “A modern Robin Hood story: the strippers who stole from (mostly) rich, (usually) disgusting men and gave to, well, themselves.” As the title suggests, strippers, who were led by Barbash, often drugged their clients and stole from them while they were unconscious and inebriated. These clients also happened to work on Wall Street, meaning it wasn’t just a couple of hundred dollars; it was estimated that the group stole around $200,000. Barbash was eventually convicted and pled guilty to the charges which included assault, conspiracy, and grand larceny, resulting in five years probation.

But, despite Pressler’s article and coverage in the media, Barbash feels the way her story was told is inaccurate, particularly in the film. In an interview for Vanity Fair, Barbash mentions the aspects that stood out to her, from Lopez’s mannerism to concocting drug mixtures with her daughter- which never happened. Further, these depictions jarred Barbash, “I’m actually offended by that. That’s attacking my character. I’m a mother. My son is grown. But I’m still a mother,” she said.

Barbash was asked to contribute to the making of Hustlers but declined due to the compensation. “I’m a businesswoman. J. Lo doesn’t work for free. Why would I? At the end of the day, I have bags that are worth more than what they wanted to pay me,” she said.

The film did well among critics and in figures, grossing over $33 million the first weekend of its release. After numerous people asking if Barbash had watched Hustlers as well as its popularity she figured she’d go and see it for herself and was somewhat disappointed. So much so, that she filed a lawsuit on Tuesday against Nuyorican Productions for exploiting her image and proceeding to use it anyway, without any waivers being signed by Barbash. She is seeking $40 million dollars in total, half for compensation and the other for punitive damages.

“Defendants did not take caution to protect the rights of Ms. Barbash by creating a fictionalized character, or by creating a composite of characters to render JLO’s character a new fictitious one; rather they engaged in a systematic effort to make it well-known that JLO was playing Ms. Barbash,” the lawsuit reads, reported by Page Six. It also includes halting producing copies of the film.

It’s a gray area because although the film didn’t have consent from Barbash to tell her story, it was public interest and it’s not the first occurrence of the media using someone’s identity for profit. Still, in this age, anyone can become an unwanted viral meme overnight, be catfished, have multiple “finstas” and have our Google searches and likes saved to an unknown database. The internet has skewed the concept of identity and will continue to.

Image Courtesy of TMZ via YouTube

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