‘Hustlers’: a movie about more than just stripping

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“Hustlers,” directed by Lorene Scafaria and starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, looked like it was going to be a raunchy, exploitative film from start to finish. Based on the previews, the movie  seemed like a group of strippers were going to rip off some super rich men, and there would be little to no substance or depth as far as the plot was concerned. Surprisingly enough, “Hustlers”  turned out to be a touching film about family, love, greed and survival. Not to mention the movie reinvents the way people look at female strippers.

As far as stripper movies go, the category is seriously lacking in the realm of being taken seriously. The options for a good stripper movie are pretty slim to begin with, and there have been no Academy Award winners among them. Take “Magic Mike” for example — “Hustlers” was significantly deeper than any “Magic Mike” film that has ever been produced and has made more than twice as much in its opening weekend. So it was definitely interesting, but not totally surprising, to hear that Lopez is getting Oscar buzz for her role in the film.

In “Hustlers,” which was based on a true story, Destiny, played by Wu, turns to stripping to pay her bills and keep her elderly grandma living comfortably for the rest of her days. Destiny finds herself in a high-end strip club right in the middle of New York City, where she befriends the fierce and streetwise veteran stripper Ramona, played by Lopez.

Ramona agrees to show Destiny the ropes of how to be successful in the club by giving her lessons on how to work a pole and give a high-paying lap dance, with the assistance of Diamond, played by Cardi B. Cardi B, having been a stripper in real life, shows her expertise as an exotic dancer has not gone away since her rise to musical fame. In classic Cardi B style, she also gets to deliver some of the raunchiest, but funniest, lines in the whole film.

The first 30 minutes of the movie is just a huge party and reminiciant of what life was like in 2007. Money was good, celebrities like Usher were coming into the club and the women were living happy lives. That is, until the stock market and financial crash of 2008. During the crash, the club suffers and resorts to hiring women who will do a lot more than dance to earn money. Destiny, who had left the stripper life behind once she learned she was pregnant, finds herself in a bind when the father of her newborn child walks out on her. After a few years of estrangement, Destiny and Ramona reconnect back in the club where they used to work together, and they hatch a plan to try to get the money flowing once again.

The women decide to meet rich men in bars, get them drunk, drug them with a mix of ketamine and MDMA and then escort them to the club. At the club, the women steal men’s credit cards and charge them to their limit, keeping the profits. Playing the men’s pride and manhood against them certainly proves effective when nobody reports anything to the police. The men will not press charges or get the police involved because they do not want to admit to getting robbed by female strippers.

This idea of drugging men for their money is justified in the movie by the way the men objectify and want women to service them sexually for dollar bills — when the women first start conning the men, the movie only shows arrogant, borderline abusive men as the targets. The women figure their targets have an incredible amount of money, and if they want to treat women in such a demeaning way, then they deserve payback in return. Not to mention, these guys work on Wall Street and screw people over for a living, so most of them deserve it, according to Destiny and Ramona.

I can see their logic, and I enjoyed that logic when I was watching the film, but at the same time, the movie is perpetuating the idea that women can’t make a living on their own. They have to seduce and drug a man, then go through this entirely tedious and illegal process to get the money they need to survive. They might seem in control, but these men still have the power because they have the money in the first place. Without men, the women in this film can’t exist or even survive, apparently. I can’t decide who to feel bad for: the men for being victims of these women, or the women for thinking that this is their only option.

Although the world that these women live in revolves around money, and how much of it they can make, the movie goes into detail about how they actually become a family. They suffer loss and death together, they deal with breakups together, they deal with financial problems together and they even celebrate holidays like Christmas together. The movie goes past the artificial friendships that movies like “Magic Mike” portray between fellow strippers.

When the characters get caught — and they do get caught — Destiny takes a deal with the police to avoid jail time so she can be a mother to her daughter. After I saw everything that Destiny and Ramona go through together, I felt that betrayal and hurt for Ramona, especially since she has a daughter to think about, too, but she didn’t turn over on her friends.

A few years after the women get caught, an article is published detailing the events as told by multiple characters, including a few of the drugged men and the police officers who eventually arrested the women. The movie ends with Destiny reading the article and thinking about reaching out to Ramona. I couldn’t help but cheer for them to rekindle their friendship.

“Hustlers” was the perfect amount of raunchy, sexy, badass, funny and heartwarming, and it has all the makings of a very entertaining film. Most importantly, I believe the movie will change the way people look at female strippers. Female strippers are seen as more than these sex objects now — they are mothers who are stong and willing do anything for their children. This movie humanized them, and all of the different ethnicities represented in the movie only made it better. It is for those reasons that I believe “Hustlers” is refreshing and revolutionary.

Overall, it was a good pick. Will it be a classic? No. Will J.LO get an Oscar nomination? Probably not. Is it a good time? Yes. Should everyone hustle over to the movie theatre to go see it? Absolutely.

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