We’ve waited so long to see a movie depicting people in the sex industry in a good light, since in most movies they are presented as shady, unreliable and immoral. This only reinforces the prejudice against workers in the industry and stigmatization which they face every day.
Hustlers (2019), starring Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, and Cardi B was long-awaited and highly promising. But did it live up to expectations?
According to box office and general audience, the movie is a complete success. It’s a slightly different story when it comes to actual people in the sex industry and their opinions, with a lot of mixed feelings about this movie. Some of them think it empowers people in the sex industry, while others think that it bashes them by making them look like criminal, which implies that clients shouldn’t trust them.
The movie is based on a true story of strip club workers Samantha Barbash (Ramona, played by Lopez) and Roselyn Keo (Destiny, played by Wu). The duo actually, “decided to outsource to escorts they found from Backpage and Craigslist”, (except in the movie, they were cast as strippers instead) lured rich clients into clubs to entertain them, spiked their drinks and maxed out their credit cards. Eventually, a customer pressed charges against them and they were arrested and sentenced.
Barbash didn’t want to participate in the making of Hustlers since the production wanted to pay her only a small amount of money. After seeing the movie, she pointed out some inconsistencies and dissimilarities between herself and the character played by Jennifer Lopez, mostly regarding Ramona’s mannerism and personality, but she was pleased with Cardi B and her interpretation.
There are undoubtedly some positive aspects and real-life motives, such as presenting different body types, showing how girls support and take care of each other. The movie also sheds light on raising kids and balancing family life and working as a ‘hustler’.
Hustlers is glamorous, glitzy, empowering and fun at first glance. However, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows behind the scenes. Several issues arose during the filming of the movie.
Instead of hiring real industry workers, producers brought pole-dance instructors to teach actresses the art of pole-dancing.
During the shooting of the movie, the entire club was rented and closed for five days. This meant that those who worked in that club lost thousands of dollars and weren’t compensated.
Producers of Hustlers refused to compensate for the loss claiming that the workers weren’t technically employed and bound by contract to the club, which meant that they could’ve worked in other clubs during the filming.
Another major issue arose involving social media. Hustlers, was aggressively promoted on Instagram and billboards, whereas in real life Instagram bans certain hashtags and closes the accounts of sex workers for violating their biased policy. So, apparently it’s acceptable for a blockbuster movie about the sex industry to be promoted, but if sex workers want to promote themselves and their services they get banned. Talk about double standards. Some of the hashtags that are banned include #stripperlife, #yesastripper, and #ilovetoseestripperswin.
Social media is incredibly important for sex workers because they connect with each other, share experiences and double-check their potential clients. Sex workers are being stripped of a sense of community and support which is vital to their jobs. If everyone else can advertise and promote their services, why are sex workers still discriminated against and banned? Luckily, these guys and girls are clever and know how to make the best out of a bad situation. They figured out that they can use #hustlers hashtag to avoid the shadow banning and promote themselves. So far this burning issue hasn’t been resolved and sex workers are made to find different ways for promotion.
We are still far away from a movie that brings justice and truth to the life of workers in the sex industry. Instead of hiring real sex workers on set and giving them roles or asking them to be consultants, producers continuously disregard their valuable opinion which would certainly make movies more realistic.