Hustlers Tells a New Story About Women

October, 11 2019 | By Audrey Wang

Hustlers is a period piece. Yes, the 2000s counts as a bygone era now. Though now we look back on that cringe-worthy time and laugh, the low rise jeans, thin eyebrows, and fur bring up a surprising amount of nostalgia. Add that aesthetic onto a soundtrack including Fiona Apple, Usher, and a 17-year-old Lorde, and this era seems more glamorous and much more distant than we realize.

Photo Courtesy of STXFilms

Based on this true New York Magazine piece, Hustlers is about a group of strippers who execute a plan to take advantage of their Wall Street clients, drugging them and conning them out of millions of dollars. The story is told in a flashback centering around the point of view of Destiny (Constance Wu), a woman trying to support her grandmother and make ends meet. In the present, Destiny is chatting with a journalist (Julia Stiles) about her time at the club, and in the past, the audience watches the very beginning of Destiny’s story, meeting Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), an experienced stripper and the eye of the hurricane that Destiny gets caught in. Ramona warmly takes her under her wing, or rather, literally wraps her in her fur coat. Ramona guides Destiny on how to scam men that visit the clubs and introduces Destiny to other women who work alongside them — a star-studded cast including actors Keke Palmer and Lili Reinhart, and musicians Cardi B and Lizzo. This ensemble goes on to take sleazy Wall Street men for all they — and their credit cards— are worth.

In the midst of all the glitz, sweat, and cash, exists a story about women and all their complexities — with two women of color in the lead roles no less. Writer and director Lorene Scafaria shows us the nuances of these women, and we see the warmth, ruthlessness, and even fear they feel as they make morally questionable decisions that escalate dangerously fast. Destiny worries while Ramona pushes, and the two fight. When the good is good, it’s Ramona and Destiny going on shopping sprees for designer labels together. When it’s bad, they’re physically fighting over whether or not to give a victim his money back. Through all the ups and downs that Ramona and Destiny get into, their bond of friendship is refreshing to see on screen. Scafaria pens a multitude of complex antiheroes that audience can’t pigeonhole as being good or bad. And they don’t have to be either one — Scafaria’s script is smartly written about the nuances of these characters. The audience is allowed to see all the dimensions of these women, who are in roles typically reserved for men, providing a refreshing, groundbreaking narrative.

Photo Courtesy of STXFilms

In addition to the writing, the film is well-executed technically. The time jumps are seamless, rather than confusing. At one point in the film, the shots of all the women luring in their marks cut to a shot of tall heels on either side of a pair of dress shoes, barely touching the ground. Scafaria’s direction knows exactly when to let the audience see everything, when to let the audience fill in the blanks themselves, and when to leave them wanting more.

Wu and Lopez shine in this story that at the end of the day, is a tale of friendship and women in the workplace — complete with a dash of grand larceny. Hustlers will leave you feeling the impact of love and friendship and just how complex and dynamic women characters can be. Scafaria allows these women to be bad, allows them to be good, and, perhaps most significant of all, allows them to be themselves.

© 2020 by Artistry Magazine.

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