Despite the efforts of the #MeToo movement and various other pushes, feminism has struggled to cement itself in Hollywood film. The best that’s been done so far is creating all-female versions of films and franchises written for men, like Ocean’s Eight and Lord of the Flies – pitiful.
So, when I saw the trailer for Hustlers, boasting a strong female cast and a vibrant, go-get-it plot that hinted at advocacy for sex-workers, I thought we were finally going to receive a coming of age, female-driven, expertly constructed drama. Boy was I wrong.
So, What Is Hustlers About?
Hustlers tells the story of Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), a seasoned and vibrant stripper, who takes Destiny (Constance Wu), a relative newbie to the industry, under her surprisingly maternal wing. The film is based on a true story about a group of strippers, including Ramona and Destiny, who seduce and drug rich white men to steal their money following the global financial crisis in 2008.
Despite the promises of the trailer, I was hugely unimpressed by this film. Here’s five reasons why it didn’t live up to its expectations.
#1 The Ethics Were Dodgy
Let’s do the old switcheroo: if this were a group of men grooming, drugging and stealing from well-to-do women, there’d be an outcry. It’s not PC to create films like that, so why is this one being celebrated?
While the film was based on true events, the writers had the opportunity to make a powerful statement with their positioning of the story and they completely blew it. Scenes in which the women seduced, drugged and stole from the wealthy white lads were framed in a way that absolved responsibility from the criminals, and ridiculed the victims. I can’t help but feel the writers were merely ripping off the story of the IRL hustlers to make a few bucks; their exploration of the issues at hand feels insincere.
#2 The Cast Deserved Better
The Hustlers line-up boasted Jennifer Lopez, Riverdale sweetheart Lili Reinhart, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles and even Cardi B (who used to work as a stripper) – so my expectations were sky high. These ladies together are the Hollywood dream team and deserved so much better than their mediocre scripts. Don’t @ me.
#3 The Ending Is Clumsy
“This city, this whole country is a strip club”, speaks Lopez’s Ramona in a stunning metaphor – but why wait until the last minutes of the film to dig deep?
The ending was low impact with some loose ends floating around as the credits rolled. The women received fairly low sentences for their crimes and it’s implied that Destiny will reach out to Ramona to make amends. But it’s all wishy washy and I was left with more questions than answers.
#4 It Lacked Respect For Sex-Workers IRL
Despite the movie attempting to shine a light on the poor working conditions faced by sex workers (namely no job security and often having to fork over a percentage of the night’s earnings to the club’s management), the actual filming was done at a New York club.
The premises had to be hired out for the week, with apparently not a single cent going to any of the sex workers who were then pushed out of work. Although the film attempts to comment on this employment issue, its actual production ironically ignored the plights of sex workers IRL.
#5 It Was More About Action/Crime Than Sex-Worker Empowerment
If you’re going to tackle a complex minority group such as sex-workers in twenty-first century film, you’ve got to do it properly. Hustlers tried to do a good thing; I’ll give it that. For sex workers, this film should have been empowering, but it lacked thought and substance.
The film was marketed in a way that had me expecting a deep tale of female empowerment with the potential to unravel the stigmas behind sex work, but it didn’t deliver. Not all representation is good representation, and Hustlers is the perfect illustration of why this is so.
Sex workers remain hugely marginalised voices in society and this film failed in its opportunity to break through that.
Image Sources: STX films