How Much Did Hollywood Get Right With ‘Hustlers’?


Even Drake’s love for strippers can not match that of the media. Well prior to the collective post-woke embrace of sex positivity—forcibly ushered into Hollywood alongside racial and body diversity via viral tweets—there was no shortage of narratives exploring or “exposing” sex work. Particularly, its (always dark!) underbelly.

 

Because of such, strippers onscreen have long-since followed the same trajectory; the beautiful, daddy issue-ridden protagonist heads to the nearest club when her fortunes take a turn for the worse; wolves of Wall Street throw cash at interchangeable girls; dancers just want to pay for college, or single parent—and then they’re out. None of them really want to be there, let alone actively choose the profession. 

 

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Hustlers, the J. Lo produced-and-starring film, promises to be different. It’s based on a true story—first published in New York Magazine—about a group of women working at Manhattan club, Scores, who fancied themselves modern day Robin Hoods—drugging and ripping-off finance bros who themselves inadvertently rip off, well, everyone. It boasts a stellar cast, with music supernovas Cardi B (herself a former dancer) and Lizzo, Crazy Rich Asians sensation Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart (Riverdale‘s breakout star) among them. The first trailer, released yesterday, shows the all-knowing older dancer, J. Lo, grooming the newcomers and waxing poetic about how their illegal actions are more than justified. “Men are schmucks,” is the party line, and that makes them ripe for manipulation. 

 

But is this a sentiment shared by, or even a story relatable to, real dancers? How do they feel about their profession portrayed by very privileged women well outside their world? Has Hollywood finally got it right this time? We asked.

 

Selena, 26 

Dancing for 2.5 years 

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I trust Danny, to some degree. At least enough to visit him privately. Some of you may be familiar with my Danny stories. He’s my piss fetishist plutocrat with a love for dirty talk. I realized this last session that it has been about a year since we met. He was my first $2,000 night. The first time I’d watched another stripper giving head. She had put a condom on his limp coke dick and blown him, even as he half-heartedly protested because he knew he couldn’t nut. I had appreciated her persistence, and the break her work had given me. Danny had originally picked me, and brought her along for the blow. He had spent most of the session whispering his fantasies into my ear and asking for mine in exchange. Him: You know what the sexiest part of a woman’s body is? Me: What? Him: What’s inside here. He pointed to my forehead. Me: I agree. ———— Excerpt from a very long juicy story available on my Patreon for $1 😘. I’m back in the states after my little trip across South Asia. I feel very lucky I am able to travel like this, I know it’s a privilege. I’m really excited to be back and finally settle in a little. This past year I’ve traveled a lot, and most of it wasn’t the fun kind of travel. Most of it was to see my grandmother. I was leaving every month for a while to go back home to see her, so it was a year of disruption in many ways. This year will be about my personal growth. It seems like every time I experience a great loss I cut all my hair off. I externalize the loss to fixate on something more fixable. Hair comes and goes. For now there’s ponytail extensions when I want to feel like a cis woman. I guess I never post pictures of me being more androgynous. I think it’s my occupation pushing me toward the “feminine.” Anyway, enjoy my #whoredouerves panties courtesy of @shopsluthut #herstory #hoestory #pissfetishplutocrat #loveintheclub

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What were your initial thoughts when you saw the ‘Hustlers’ trailer?

 

It bothers me to see people who have never been strippers representing strippers. I was conflicted because I like the cast—love Lizzo, J. Lo, Cardi, Constance, etc.—but I also know plenty of strippers who are hustling, trying to get into the business. To not even consider any strippers aside from Cardi just blows my mind. Nobody was given the opportunity to have a breakout role except for maybe Lizzo, who is already a star in her own right through music… just more industry exclusion.

 

Did anything resonate as particularly realistic or unrealistic?

 

I did like the representation, because at strip clubs you really do see this breadth of age range, colors, and body sizes. Crissle from The Read commented that she doesn’t believe all the women casted in Hustlers would be at the same club, but I would disagree. There are lots of clubs that are very diverse. I’ve worked with strippers who are in their late 40s, strippers who are fat, strippers who are of every race and ethnicity, and many immigrant strippers. I appreciated visually seeing all these women together.

 

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Another thing I liked was the moment Constance Wu is expected to tip-out her manager something like half of what she made that day. It was infuriatingly accurate because we are expected to tip out 10-20 percent of our earnings to staff members who are receiving hourly wages and salaries. Even with the employee/independent contractor changeover in LA, dancers are still being coerced into these tip outs with overt threats of employment termination. I appreciated that being included. I didn’t like J. Lo giving some bullshit pole lesson to the baby stripper, especially since she’s a beginner and strippers don’t use the proper terminology for tricks. That’s some “polerina” crap only people who are in the recreational pole dance world use. She also wasn’t even doing anything special and looked awkward, doing stuff real strippers wouldn’t do because we understand how stage dancing works.

 

This seems more like a heist movie than a movie about strippers that cares about nuance and accuracy. It’s essentially apolitical in a time where being a dancer is very political and where we are trying to use our voices to affect changes in our workplaces. It’s truly disappointing they neglected to take the opportunity to use their ample voice to talk about anything related to the labor movement, the stripper strikes in NYC or in LA over predatory practices, or any of the litany of other important issues we care about.

 

Does anything frustrate you about how strippers are portrayed on screen?

 

I hate that we always see some poor girl pushed into the industry because she had no other options and just wants to get out and pursue her real dreams. In this narrative, Constance Wu is playing the girl who just seems to want to be saved, and it is truly disappointing. I want to see strippers who are working because they want to, who have complex emotions and backstories, not just another sob story. What about the whole Sex Worker movement? Nobody is talking about what’s important, yet again. Why should I be surprised?

 

 

Holly, 24

Dancing for 1 year 

What were your initial thoughts when you saw the ‘Hustlers’ trailer? 

 

My initial thought was, Okay but how can I make a profit off this? Very excited to see it. I had read the New York Magazine article it’s based on a few months ago and found out it happened at the club I’m currently working at so I’m hoping this does well for business. 

 

Did anything resonate as particularly realistic or unrealistic?

 

The clubs in Manhattan I’ve worked at—especially the one I am at now—the majority of the customers I have are Wall Street bros or lawyers, so J. Lo’s quote stood out to me: “These Wall Street guys, you see what they did to this country? They stole from everybody. Hard-working people lost everything.” And that’s not all, also: “The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.” When it comes to these Wall Street bros you should go for it because we deserve all the money, not them, they’re all clowns.

 

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Does anything frustrate you about how strippers are portrayed on screen?

 

I feel like this glamorization of what we do only furthers this idea that people have that strippers make insane amounts of money every night, which is really unrealistic. The money is consistent as long as you’re hustling, but don’t get it twisted because it varies.

 

It frustrates me to see people use what we do as an aesthetic. A lot of people don’t even know we have to pay a house fee to work every night, a lot of our money goes to management—who are all men that profit off our labor. So I’m happy to see someone like Cardi being casted for this because she is open about her past as a dancer…even though her role isn’t a leading one, at least they got someone real in there who has personally experienced that hustle. 

 

 

Ivy, 25

Dancing for 5 years

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by @bigfrenchboy

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What were your initial thoughts when you saw the ‘Hustlers’ trailer?

 

Before I watched it I thought, This better be good. Movies involving strippers often portray the same cliché, ditzy stereotype as a small character in the background. But sex workers and acceptance is becoming increasingly more popular lately (you’re all late) and in Hollywood I’ve seen some storylines and characters becoming a lot better at being those we can identify with. This seems like a good story, giving some background on our outside the club lives and the things we work hard for. I’m gonna see it, of course, I’m thrilled to see strippers as main characters and boss bitches.

 

Did anything resonate as particularly realistic/unrealistic?

 

I mean it’s obviously a very glamorized version of the true story but that’s showbiz baby. I don’t think this will be the movie that really tells our story, just a story that happened once. We don’t all have the time to start a girl gang and rob rich white assholes, but it’s really not a bad idea. The opening with Constance sitting on the floor and J. Lo trying to teach her pole was cute, I felt that. I love when I have a sisterhood at the club I’m at. You really only have yourself at work but the girls that protect each other are so important for sensitive hoes like me.

 

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And when she handed over that 40 percent fee…that hurt my feelings. Too real. People don’t know how much we pay to be at the club. House fee in New York per night is anywhere from $80-$250. Just to be there. If a man pays for a private room let’s say half an hour, that man pays the club $300 (for the cheapest room; with a curtain) and you $300. Then the club takes a fee from your $300 too. Then lots of also men pay in “funny money” and we have to cash that out for 16 percent to the club, if someone is around to do it that night. It’s insane. Tip your dancers!

 

Does anything frustrate you about how strippers are portrayed on screen?

 

Again, it’s often the same exact thing which is so boring. In this I’m glad they have at least one person that has done the work—I hope Cardi B has a lot of screen time. I’m sure the other actresses “studied” enough for their roles. Actually I’m sure one of them has, J. Lo went in to the club my friend works at in NYC not too long ago and sat at the rack watching the dancer on stage. Heard she never tipped her.

 

 

Sasha, 26

Danced for 2 years

What were your initial thoughts when you saw the ‘Hustlers’ trailer?

 

My initial response was, I want to see this movie—not because of the “Let’s take down the rich man” aspect of it, but more because of the scene where the girl is tipping out the end of the night and has to pay the house X amount of money. Because that’s the part that I remember most, doing all the work and paying everyone around you “their cut.”

 

Did anything resonate as particularly realistic or unrealistic?

 

The tip out scene/the “I’m just doing this to take care of my family and maybe have some money to go shopping” part was real—I know the story behind the girls at Scores who scammed the guys for oodles of money so I’m curious to see how they play that out, also the “working with animals” quote was pretty spot on.

 

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Does anything frustrate you about how strippers are portrayed on screen?

 

It looks like they’re glamorizing it a bit and also playing up the sisterhood aspect of stripping, which I like because in the end it is a sisterhood. That being said the sisterhood aspect was not always there, sometimes there was a lot of territorial attitude. Sisterhood was earned but not given off the gate; when I first started at any club, I was given a bit of an icy trial period before any friendship started.

 

I’d be curious to see the statistics on how stripping as job may become more popular as a result of people watching this movie. I like seeing the diversity of the women portrayed on the screen, I like that J.Lo leads the pack, it was always older, beautiful women who took care of us baby strippers. That being said no one was ever allowed to use the dance floor as a practice time before work and no one ever gave me a dance lesson for free.

 

 

 

 

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