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How "Hustlers" Hustles Us

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How Many Strippers Would Rob You?

More disturbing is that Hustlers gives the erroneous, sex-work-maligning impression that all or most strippers are, essentially, criminals who drug, rob and blackmail their customers. This false trope is based on a few isolated true stories mixed with a truckload of fantasies that many people have about strippers who, just by their very existence, are stereotyped as seductive villains.

In the middle of the film, Dorothy/Destiny tells a reporter that she doesn't want to perpetuate the stigma of all strippers being thieves--"because they're not," she says. But the movie does just that.

Despite all the feel-good action,Hustlers strongly suggests that drugging and robbing customers in strip clubs is business-as-usual. It certainly makes me uninclined to go to a strip club, let alone order a drink there. Somehow I don't think Hustlers will be good for the stripper business.

This makes me sad because, as imperfect as it most certainly is, the strip club is an oasis of nudity in our puritanically censored society, a place where consenting adults can legally enjoy the usually taboo visual pleasure of unclothed fellow humans in erotic motion, and where those courageously unclothed humans can make a little cash for the very special pleasure they provide.

The fact is that nothing bad has ever happened to me at a strip club. But movies, especially well-made movies like this one, can give you feelings that are stronger than facts.

As a sex therapist, I talk to many men who fantasize about gorgeous, unscrupulous strippers and other types of sex workers doing what these hustlers do: drugging (via erotic hypnosis or real drugs), robbing and blackmailing them. It may boggle the minds of most people, but that total surrender of control is the ultimate erotic fantasy for these men. Though when it comes to reality, they almost never really want to be robbed. In fact, it's their greatest fear. But then, fear and fantasy is a potent combination.

Hustlers teases the fantasy and enhances the fear.

Behind the Hustlers Scenes

Many real strippers are upset because Hustlers was shot at an actual strip club called Show Palace, shutting down the club for almost a week to shoot, paying the owners and some extras, but depriving the strippers themselves of work and failing to compensate them for their lost hours. Later, Scafaria apologized for this, promising to donate to SWOP Behind Bars, but still, those Show Palace strippers never got paid, and it doesn't look like they ever will. You think those Wall Street guys are a**holes? How about some Hollywood insensitivity to the very workers whose work you're exploiting for your movie.

Meanwhile, strip-club hostess Samantha Barbash, aka Samantha Foxx, the original real-life hustler busted in 2014 and the focus of Pressler's article, as well as the inspiration for J Lo's Ramona character, is not so happy with the film. She feels that Hustlers is her story. However, when the Hustlers producers failed to offer her sufficient money for the rights, she said no, and they made the Hustlers movie without her anyway. Now Samantha's upset that J Lo didn't contact her or play her "accurately" (Ramona's a stripper and Samantha was and still is a hostess). She thinks Cardi B should have played Ramona, maybe because Cardi really lived the life.

But Hustlers cast The Wedding Planne r as the lead "hustler," because Hollywood loves sex workers, but only on Hollywood terms. Mainstream movies like this tend to present sexuality as an enticement, only to moralize against it "in the end".

"This is a story about control," says Janet Jackson, who famously lost control of her Superbowl outfit, as Hustlers begins. While that line pertains to the stripper life, the same could be said of the film industry in general.

Bonobo Sex Work

To be fair, Hustlers is more stripper-positive than most Hollywood films. After all, what's not to love about a gang of beautiful, fierce, sisterly women dominating a bunch of half-baked Gordon Geckos?

This is also bonoboesque, in that bonobo "FemDoms of the Wild" tend to dominate the males, sexually and otherwise", but the males are happy about it (see The Bonobo Way for more about bonobo sexual culture). Like the ladies of Hustlers, bonobo females hang out in groups, the better to handle individual males on their terms.

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Susan Block, Ph.D., aka "Dr. Suzy," best-known for her groundbreaking HBO specials, is a best-selling author and international champion of sex education, erotic freedom and bonobo apes. Her latest book, The Bonobo Way, has been praised as (more...)
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How "Hustlers" Hustles Us

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