I’ve been dying to see the movie Hustlers since I first saw the trailer over the summer. The cast was spectacular—Constance Wu, J.Lo, Lizzo, Keke Palmer––what more could you ask for? It was one of the most diverse female casts I had seen in a while. I sent a message to my roommate and we made a vow to see it as soon as it came out. This past weekend, we got our tickets and settled into what we thought was going to be a fun, lighthearted movie experience. What we watched was so much more than that.
The film follows the friendship between Destiny (Constance Wu), who also narrates the story, and Ramona (Jennifer Lopez). Ramona is a seasoned exotic dancer who has perfected every technique, and Destiny is the new girl in town who is struggling to find her place. Ramona takes Destiny under her wing, marking the beginning of a strong and lucrative friendship.
The film is split into two parts—before the 2008 U.S. Recession and after. Before the Recession, the strip club is filled with successful Wall Street men with pockets full of cash. They tend to be incredibly degrading to the women working at the club. Destiny says that although it’s difficult to be the victim of, it’s just another day of work.
Seeing how the men treated the dancers was hard to watch. I had to look away a few times because the interactions could be so uncomfortable. However, it was refreshing to see a portrayal of these men that didn’t glorify them but rather painted them as capitalistic villains. On the other hand, the dancers still had fun on the job, especially with each other. The backstage room became a place to share what was on their mind, help each other out, and laugh. This was a great strength of the film, depicting women in this line of work with humanity.
This movie addresses a lot of issues, such as the dangers of sex work, capitalistic greed, childhood trauma, and the oppression that women of color face. While there are fun, lighter moments in this film, the bigger message is how women learn to survive when all the odds are against them.
One way to survive is to stick together, like Ramona and Destiny. Even after going through some really tough situations which tore them apart, the bond they made was lasting. They even became mother-like figures to other strippers who were new or abandoned by their loved ones. The movie ends interview-style, asking Ramona and Destiny about their crazy experiences and unique friendship.
Ramona’s final line sums up the deeper meaning of this film perfectly: “The world is a strip club. There are people tossing the money and people doing the dance.” Was Hustlers a lighthearted, good time? Not exactly. But it felt incredibly empowering, and I left the theater with a changed mindset on the heavier topics.