Hustlers: Playing the Wolves at their own Game
Updated: Feb 4
We’re all used to the predictable movie images of exotic dancers, but these women bite back. In her 2019 film, Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria shows that women can dance to their own tune.
'Get them! Get the men, screw them for all they've got! 'I was shouting at the screen. Hustlers is unlike any film I've ever seen before. It's the mirror opposite of Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street but instead of the average Joe getting screwed, it's the Wall Street bros. Post 2008 they become fair game; they caused the crash, they need to pay.
Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers completely subverts the stereotypical portrayals of exotic dancers. Sure, the opening shots are of tens of semi-clad women writhing astride punters and opening their legs leaving little to the imagination. It's what happens next that changes the story. A dressing room scene shows that the women are friends; they count on one another, giving advice and sympathy, even feeling each other's tits to assess the quality of plastic surgery. The women are at the centre of the story, not second fiddle to men. They are funny, cool and most importantly complex characters.
Destiny, (Constance Wu), is a newbie dancer who is taken under the wing of the club's highest earner, Ramona, (Jennifer Lopez). Ramona knows how to work it. It's all about understanding the client, their position in the food chain and how much they'll be able to spend. At first, times are good, but after the crash of 2008, the money dries up. The women lose contact and attempt to make money at regular jobs. Without experience, Destiny finds it tough and returns to the club, but the playboys aren't playing. It's when Destiny and Ramona re-unite, they hatch a plan to scam the punters for every dime.
The Wolf of Wall Street portrays women as expendable objects to be bought and sold; this is what happens to women who don't have agency or power. The hustlers fight to be independent and stay independent. These are not pitiable damsels in distress waiting for a man with a big gun to come and rescue them – it’s something I’ve tried to reflect in my own writing.
Watching Orange is the New Black for the first time, gave rise to similar strong emotions. It felt unfamiliar, but engrossing, funny and at the same time tragic. It was almost a shock to see women as human beings with multifaceted personalities. The authenticity of both Hustlers and Orange spills out of the screen and this may be due to the fact that both are derived from true experiences. Hustlers is based on the New York magazine's article The Hustlers At Scores by Jessica Pressler (2015) and Orange adapted from Orange Is The New Black: My Year In A Women's Prison by Piper Kerman (2015).
The extent of my shock at watching both of these is embarrassing and uncomfortable. I'm so unused to watching an ensemble of women at the centre of a story, leading lives that women aren't supposed to on-screen or off. It's not about love or being a good mum or a princess, even if you are kick arse. This is a chicken and egg scenario. I think at one point in my life I felt any woman using her body to make money was deserving of sympathy and clearly hadn't made a rational decision or didn't have the social or economic advantages to undertake a 'career '. Of course, poor things! Stupid me!
Given Hustlers and Orange as I’ve relayed above, it’s surprising that not one film directed by a woman has been nominated for an Oscar this year and only one for best film, Little Women, (Dir. Amy Pascal) - it's not for the want of quality films made by women, click here to read a Vogue article listing some of the best films directed by women in 2019. We don't have any control over the Academy, but we do over our own viewing habits; watch and enjoy.
Check out this year’s Academy Awards nominations:
For an amusing and informative read about the relationship between sex and power check out; Sex Power Money by Sara Pascoe (2019)