Does JLo’s ”Hustlers” Empower or Vilify Women?

Jennifer Lopez’ “Hustlers,” is a film inspired by the true story of Roselyn Keo and Samantha Barbash’s plot to rip off well-to-do Wall Street guys during the downturn of the market over a decade ago. In 2007 a global financial crisis brought the profitable industry to its knees. It influenced many to get creative when the money that pays for play became scarce. The a.k.a. “subprime mortgage crisis” not only changed Wall Street’s business practices but the adult entertainment marketing strategies, as well.

The movie is based on the New Yorker magazine articleThe Hustlers at Scores” written by Jessica Pressler in 2015 where she interviewed the masterminds behind a scheme to milk clients for beaucoup dollars! Roselyn Keo and Samantha Barbash worked as a team then handpicked a crew to help them carry out their plan. The women lured affluent men from their stock market C-Suites to the Champagne Room at strip clubs like Scores promising a grand old time. The biggest surprise from the night of pleasure? A rude awakening – an exorbitant charge to the client’s personal or corporate card. The hefty cost was upwards in the tens of thousands of dollars. What started out as strippers enjoying the lavish tips of men behaving badly became a Machiavelli plan of larceny and assault using street pharmaceuticals. Everyone was getting a cut of the action including the men behind the scenes like club bouncers, managers, and bartenders.

Lopez dazzles as Ramona, her physical ability to use the pole as a prop was mesmerizing. It offers a newfound appreciation for the athletics that go into exotic dancing tricks. Having taken a pole dance class, I assure you it requires impeccable body strength but the woman nails it. The actress/singer/dancer/businesswoman takes off the Jennifer Lopez hat and immerses into character. Her aggressive, yet, seductive personality draws viewers into Ramona’s world making you forget that she is Jenny from the Block. I was delighted to witness the out of body experience. She made me believe the story of the money-hungry leader of the pack.

Constance Wu was lovely as Lopez’ protege. Their chemistry appeared genuine which convinced me of the friendship being played out. Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart add color to the film’s backstory. The crew grows into a family of friendships. Regardless of reasons for drawing them to the club they were just women who shared a need for bonding. A support system was created, something obviously missing from all their lives. Cardi B and Lizzo were entertaining, funny and rich in persona. The ”Hustlers” cast and director entice the audience into feeling like they are taking part in the strip club experience. It brings the viewer further inside the sphere of these clubs. Beyond entertainment, ”Hustlers” is a raw film about a group of human beings’ dysfunction within society. All flawed, battling inner conflict as they figure out this thing called life. Art imitates life as the movies’ characters walk around their every day, acting out a part to make reality more acceptable or tolerable which isn’t always possible. Unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and childhood work together to form a complex mishmash.

During the last scene of ”Hustlers” Ramona refers to our city – and country being one big strip club. Everyone is hustling for something. Everyone has a dance hoping the moves will attract the things desired. There is money to be made, so what moves are you willing to make to get that tip? What are you ready to contribute in exchange for the wages, commissions, or bonus? How do you get what you need? Putting up with a job or boss you hate, selling a product or house you don’t believe is right for the client, faking you like someone to get the referral to grow your business. In some way or other, there are trade-offs we make in order to obtain what is needed.

In the end, there were a few takeaways as I walked out of the theatre in silence trying to process the fascinating story, movie and characters.

Depravity on Wall Street

I started in the financial industry as an assistant around the year 2000. Although, the stories of greed, wealth and infidelity are rampant. There are decent men and women working hard in finance, solely looking to get closer to the American dream. Bad conduct is not exclusive to Wall Street. I would argue that society as a whole is plagued with good and bad. This is one story that happens to take place in a world perceived to be rich and powerful but we can find plenty of industries that can be classified as more perverse with tales from the dark side. Hollywood, anyone?

Women (in this case, Strippers) are Evil and Men are their Victims

We make our beds then have to lay in it. There are consequences to one’s actions, particularly when it involves behavior that doesn’t go along with the mainstream. The women working in the club scene came into these situations already damaged emotionally and mentally. The environment was not conducive to healing, to the contrary, it fueled a fast and inferior lifestyle giving the women a one-way ticket to their personal hell. Deep down many of the woman knew what they were doing was wrong, you could see how lost they were when managing their own lives. Rationalizing the crimes might have helped them find temporary solace in their minds, though guilt manifested in other ways.

The men were victimized but not exactly innocent. Granted, the women cajoled clientele into a scheme to rob them blind. However, it cannot be overlooked when men behind and in front of the house, as well as, club-goers use every chance they got to belittle and humiliate the women at the establishment. It is similar to kicking an individual when they’re down, somewhat savage. Don’t you think?

Badass Females Rock

Director, Lorena Scafaria was masterful at bringing these people to life. She did not curtail or soften the actor’s to play nice. In a world of the ”Me Too” movement, it’s hard to take on the task. The flick was sharp, unapologetic in its realness. Growing up in a time of movies like Scarface or Goodfellas this is a breath of fresh women empowerment.

Human beings are a complicated mess that requires constant tweaking. Imperfect, broken, emotional, and full of intricate workings in its psychological makeup. We cannot deny that wicked behavior lives among us. The best we can do is be conscious of our actions, make choices we can live with that keep our dignity and principles intact. Always leaving room for the mistakes that will happen, these help us learn the lessons.

I’d say, go check out Hustlers‘ and take with you, an open mind.

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