I know what you’re thinking, and no, it’s not just a movie about strippers.
Sure, the ladies whose story is told in the Jennifer Lopez-led film, out Sept. 13, were dancers at clubs around New York City. But the narrative goes much deeper than that. Based on a true story, “Hustlers” stars a cast that we almost couldn’t believe was possible: Besides Lopez, there’s Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Cardi B, Lizzo and Julia Stiles, each portraying key players in the inception and downfall of the operation that conned Wall Street moguls out of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
So, yes, it’s a movie about strippers, but don’t knock it as such -- initial reactions to its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival were by and large great, to the point where Lopez is getting Oscar buzz. It’s a more mature version of Anne Hathaway and Rebel Wilson’s “The Hustle,” in which the gender stereotypes were swapped so that women were the ones conning people and getting away with it. Instead of the almost whimsical air that “The Hustle” employed, “Hustlers” actually has some sociological commentary -- the value systems women must work with, how the 2008 recession affected the elite and the scrappy alike, what establishes a sisterhood -- behind it, giving it legs that positions Lopez and her ensemble worthy of some legitimate accreditation.
Journalist Jessica Pressler (whom Stiles plays in the film) first hyped the story up when she published an expose in New York Magazine, calling it a modern-day Robin Hood tale. She profiled Roselyn Keo, the source of Wu’s Destiny, and included detailed information about involved parties like Stephanie Barbash (Foxx, now).
Lopez’s Ramona serves as the person responsible for commissioning a group of exotic dancers to help her, essentially, steal money from their overtly-rich clients in the film, loosely based on Barbash. She is the ringleader of the whole thing, coordinating who to drug when, and while Lopez may add to her accolades with this role, though, it won’t be because of Barbash’s support.
Barbash told the New York Post in April that she plans to sue Lopez and STX Entertainment for misrepresenting her in the film.
“I was never a stripper. It’s defamation of character,” Barbash said. “It’s my story she’s making money off of. If she wants to play me, then she should have gotten the real story.”
Even though the film isn’t a documentary or nonfiction, nor does it claim to be, it’s pretty obvious that Lopez is meant to be Barbash -- just take a look at this side-by-side photo.
Keo, though, is fully on board. Considered Barbash’s second in command, Keo was reportedly introduced to her biggest clients by Barbash, and the two of them situated the ring. But for all of Barbash’s hatefulness for the project, Keo couldn’t be more supportive, fully endorsing all the stars and excited for the product.
At the heart of the film is a story about sisterhood and survival, which writer-director Lorene Scafaria said came directly from what she gathered after reading the article, telling TIME she “found it to be a fascinating friendship story at its core.”
Since the film was adapted from Pressler’s 2015 article, just a year after four women and one man involved were indicted, the film is more or less close to the truth of what happened to these women and their “(mostly) rich, (usually) disgusting” clients -- but let’s not give it away, shall we? “Hustlers” is in theaters now.