Hustlers, starring Jennifer Lopez, tells the true story of a group of New York City strippers who begin to scam clients out of their money, although it does make some changes to the real life tale. Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, Hustlers has earned rave reviews for its American crime story and the performances within it.
There's already Oscar buzz around Lopez, while her co-star Constance Wu has also been hailed for her turn in the film. Hustlers is centered around Dorothy/Destiny (Wu) and Ramona Vega (Lopez), the former a newcomer to the strip club Moves, the latter a veteran who shows her the ropes. After the financial crisis of 2008 sees the club and its workers fall on hard times, Destiny, Ramona, and some of the other girls formulate a scheme that involves drugging the richest clients and stealing their money.
It leads to a fun, The Wolf of Wall Street-esque tale, but it's one that was first told back in 2015. Hustlers features Julia Styles as Elizabeth, a journalist who is working on the story, and in reality this was Jessica Pressler's article "The Hustlers at Scores" from New York Magazine. While the film hits many of the same beats, Hustlers does take creative licence with its true story.
Hustlers' Biggest Changes To The True Story
The first and most obvious change to the true story in Hustlers are the names of the key players: Wu's Dorothy is really called Roselyn Keo, and Lopez's Ramona Vega is in fact Samantha Barbash, although much of what they did remains the same. Likewise, Lili Reinhart's Annabelle is really called Karina Pascucci, Mercedes (Keke Palmer) is likely based on Marsi Rosen, and Stiles' Elizabeth is Jessica Pressler, while the club changes from Scores to Moves. The operation, which involved a mix of MDMA and ketamine to drug the clients, ran quite similarly to how it's presented in the film, although with one or two differences. In Hustlers, there's a scene where they're trying to perfect the recipe and knock themselves out in the kitchen; in reality, Barbash had nailed the formula before Keo got in on it.
One of Hustlers' many memorable scenes is a client who gets a little too high, and ends up believing he can fly. He jumps off the roof of his building, thinking he can make it into the pool, and instead crashes onto the concrete, with the girls having to rush him to the hospital. However, there's no mention in the story of anyone having to go to hospital because of the operation getting out of hand. Likewise, when Destiny first returns to stripping, she ends up giving a man a hand job for what she thinks is three $100 bills, only for them to turn out to be three $20s, which also seems to be a film-only addition, although not beyond the realms of possibility.
In Hustlers, one of the clients who helps bring the operation down is an architect, but in real life he was a cardiologist by the name of Zyad Younan, who "spent" $135,000 over the course of four visits to Scores. Another of the men who helped take the hustlers down lost his house in a hurricane, which in the movie becomes a fire. Both feature in Hustlers in some form, while in real life there were a total of four victims who gave testimonies and evidence to the police that resulted in the arrests of Keo and Barbash. Hustlers also makes it rather clear that Ramona was the ringleader of the operation, but the article is a little muddier on this aspect, suggesting that Rosie and Samantha were equally involved in running things. Barbash might've had a lot of the contacts and initiated things, but it was Keo who was the mastermind on the business side of the operation, and was more driven in this respect than even the film acknowledges.
Finally, there's the story of Usher's arrival in the strip club, which is another of Hustlers' most memorable scenes. In the movie, this is an extravagant night where all the girls are thrilled by the arrival of Usher at the club, with the star making a cameo appearance as himself. It's unknown whether or not such a night ever happened, but there's no mention of it in the New York article nor any other accounts of the story, and Scafaria told Vulture: "I wrote this cameo into the script years ago, so the fact that it happened was remarkable. To watch all of the actors reacting to him was so fun. The girls were flipping out."
J-Lo's Ramona Vega In Real Life
Hustlers' Jennifer Lopez is winning huge plaudits for her performance as Ramona Vega, but there's one person who isn't much of a fan: the real life Samantha Barbash. While she was a single mother who helped run the scheme to take money from the Wall Street guys, Barbash denies being a stripper, and back in April she told The New York Post that she planned to sue STX Entertainment, the production company behind the film, saying: "It’s my story she’s making money off of. If she wants to play me, then she should have gotten the real story... They’re going off a false story... I was not a stripper. Everything—where [Lopez] is going on poles and stuff—that’s not me... It’s defamation of character.” Barbash instead stresses that she was a hostess at Scores, not a dancer, and that she was only in it to make money for her child, and didn't care about what the Wall Street guys they took money off did. Her daughter is actually quite present in the movie, and is, at least at first, the motivating factor for Ramona, whereas her child isn't really mentioned in the New York article.
Another notable difference is with Lopez herself. In Hustlers, although it's made clear that she's older than most of the other dancers and does, like Barbash, take on a mentor role to them, it's also still obvious that she is naturally beautiful and attractive to the men they're attempting to swindle. In the article, things are somewhat different, with it reading that Barbash "may have crossed a plastic-surgery Rubicon and could scare off those unaccustomed to creatures of the night."
Constance Wu's Destiny In Real Life
Like Dorothy in Hustlers, Rosie Keo really did live with her grandparents after being left by her mother, although only her grandmother factors into Hustlers. Keo reportedly worked at a diner to help pay their mortgage, and was then approached by a customer who happened to be the manager of a gentlemen's club, who suggested that she come by if she wanted to earn more money, which she did. After working there, she then moved to Manhattan to work in the bigger, more profitable strip clubs. The movie begins after this has already happened. However, a follow-up article in New York Magazine states that Keo was on her own from the age of 16, which is when her grandmother died.
Even with that, much of Keo's story seems to be accurate, which makes sense since she was the primary source for a lot of it (and, unlike Barbash, is fully supportive of Hustlers). Keo does have a daughter from an on-again, off-again relationship, much like in the movie, which is what led her to returning to dancing and then scheming. Her relationship with Barbash, however, was apparently far less friendly than what we see in the movie. While Hustlers portrays them as close friends, who care for each other even when things are falling apart, with a hint of reconciliation at the very end, it wasn't quite so warm in reality. New York's follow-up article on Keo states that: "There wasn’t a deep friendship to salvage or to mourn — they just worked well together on something which happened to be illegal."
What Happened After The Events Of Hustlers
Hustlers concludes with each of the main players being arrested: true to life, Destiny is the first to strike a plea deal. In the film, she tells this to Ramona in person, with the pair exchanging a hug; in reality, Barbash heard this from a different source, and simply texted Keo to say: "We heard you took a plea deal. Good luck." Destiny/Keo pled guilty to assault and grand larceny, and Ramona/Barbash pled guilty to conspiracy, assault, and grand larcerny, but both avoided jail time, while Mercedes/Rosen and Annabelle/Pascucci were given weekends in jail alongside probation.
As mentioned, Barbash was considering suing STX Entertainment. She's also written a book, called Underscore, which recounts the events from her own perspective. She's also opened a medical spa which specializes in plastic surgery and cosmetic procedures. Keo is also writing her own book, titled The Sophisticated Hustler, and is once again in a relationship with the father of her child, who are making it work rather than constantly splitting up, but has also spoken of doing motivational speaking like Jordan Belfort. The end of Hustlers suggested Destiny and Ramona would reunite, but Keo doesn't see or speak to Barbash or anyone else from the club now.