In 2019—a year full of scamming—there’s no one I’d rather watch rip off rich men on the silver screen than Jennifer Lopez.
Hustlers debuted at the top of the box office when it opened earlier this month but still fell victim to stark criticism, most of which seems to be coming from men who expected less character development and more stripping. Or worse, the random one-star reviews that come from men like Mike on Rotten Tomatoes, who claims that the film was “Terrible. All hype. Zero story. J. Lo is like a Kardashian. Not sure why we keep hearing from her.”
The film has all the right elements needed to become a blockbuster—a stacked cast starring Cardi B, Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Lizzo, and J. Lo, a killer soundtrack, and a somewhat happy ending. Yet the main plot point, women scamming men, is turning people away.
The story is based on a New York Magazine article published at the end of 2015, which chronicles Roselyn Keo, played by Wu, as she teams up with Samantha Barbash, played by J. Lo, to drug Wall Street men and charm them into visiting a strip club, where they steal the man’s credit card and charge it for thousands of dollars at a time. The pair met in 2007 and were an instant match, yet when Keo took time off to give birth to her daughter, they lost touch. The pair reunited in the year following the stock market crash.
A quick browse on the Rotten Tomatoes page for Hustlers makes it clear that there’s a sizable divide between the critics and audience scores. At the time of publication, the movie sits at 88 percent on the Tomatometer based on critic reviews, whereas the audience score sits at 66 percent.
Audience reviews call it boring, say the movie was too slow, or that there “wasn’t enough stripping.” It’s important to note that Hustlers is based on a true story, and even more so, note that it was adapted from an article. At a little over 7,000 words long, the article is a fraction of what a memoir or book could cover. Based on this element of adaptation, the writer and director Lorene Scafaria had only so much to work with, and the element of truth had to hold up.
Just six years ago, people were scrambling to see The Wolf of Wall Street, essentially the same movie with men scamming other men and taking advantage of women instead. People seemed to have fewer problems watching Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort rack up millions of dollars selling penny stocks to the same type of Wall Street guys that the women in Hustlers swindled.
Hustlers was able to tell its story without the shock value of drug abuse, sex, and nudity seen in The Wolf of Wall Street, even though those aspects of the story are still present in the background. Hustlers doesn’t leave you gawking, but rather ignites a flame that makes the viewer want to clap and cheer the main characters on.
It’s inspirational to watch these women utilize their bodies as sex workers in order to beat the capitalist and misogynistic economy of the U.S. Societally, women are pushed to believe that stripping is degrading and power depriving, but these women take control of their narrative in unseen and effortless ways.
Rosie and Samantha are businesswomen first and foremost and their selfish scheme puts others in harm’s way, a reversal in the archetype that women must be nurturing. There are few men in this movie aside from those being scammed, and the female domination is felt throughout. On top of the immense screen time held by the women in charge, a woman wrote and directed the film.
Regardless of the pushback from some audiences, it’s clear that this movie had an impact on other female artists. Music supervisor Jason Markey and Scafaria convinced several hard-to-reach musicians to license their music to the film, including Lorde, Bob Seger, and Fiona Apple.
On opening night, the two women in the row behind me yelled words of praise to J. Lo anytime she said something that resonated with them, or whenever she was being remotely badass, which in turn ignited the whole crowd to respond the same way. It felt like an Avengers movie for female empowerment that I won’t be quick to forget. This movie wasn’t made for the male gaze, but rather to tell the story of sisterhood and scamming.
This film captured the essence of 2007 and 2019 into one by portraying a story of true friendship that was formed in an unconventional way, keeping the nostalgia of the early 2000s while telling the story with present-day flair. This movie is about more than just stripping and surviving, it’s about defying stereotypes and thriving.
The fact that some random men disliked the film for its lack of stripping doesn’t mean anything for its impact on women and girls everywhere.