How Accurate Is ‘Hustlers’? The True Story Of These Renegade Strippers Is So Fascinating
There is a lot that's unbelievable about the new movie Hustlers, out Sept. 13 and starring Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu, from the former strippers' highly illegal new "business" to J. Lo's upper body strength. But when it comes to how accurate Hustlers is compared to the real-life events it's based on, the major points are all very real. At least they are according to what the women behind the film's two main characters said in the New York Magazine story on which the film is based.
In 2015, New York magazine published a story by journalist Jessica Pressler titled "The Hustlers at Scores." The story centers around Roselyn Keo, a former stripper, who, along with an old coworker, Samantha Barbash, started a scheme in which they stole money from wealthy men. How'd they do it? They'd meet the guys at bars, drug them with MDMA and ketamine, take them to strip clubs, run up their credit cards for outrageous amounts, and take a huge commission for themselves. Keo handled more of the business side, and Barbash was the people person, according to the piece.
All of this is shown in the movie, and all of this is true. Barbash and Keo, along with cohorts Marsi Rosen and Karina Pascucci, have since been sentenced for their crimes. In 2017, Barbash was sentenced to five years probation after pleading guilty to conspiracy, assault, and grand larceny, as reported by Page Six. Keo took a plea deal in 2016, admitting to grand larceny and attempted assault, and also got five years probation. Rosen and Pascucci were sentenced to weekends in jail for four months and five years probation.
Keo detailed the story to Pressler for the New York article (Barbash talked to her, too, but not as much), but then later told the writer, "If you want to write the fictional story I told you, you can." As Pressler noted, "Her story is corroborated by multiple indictments and many interviews."
Outside of the overall plot about the scam, there are many specific moments that are true to life, according to Keo. Keo said that she really did call herself and Barbash "Kobe and Shaq," as Destiny (Wu) and Ramona (Lopez) do in the movie. They really hired sex workers from Craigslist to help them run the scheme and really took them shopping for new clothes. One of those women really did end up helping the police bust them. Barbash really was arrested while at an ATM. The two women really did point at each other when they were asked after their arrest which one was the ringleader.
Basically, there are a lot of details in the film that stick to what Keo and Barbash told New York, but, of course, there are some aspects that seem to have been exaggerated or altered to be more cinematic or to distance the story somewhat from the real people. All the names are changed; Keo is Destiny and Barbash is Ramona.
While the women really were spending their money to buy designer clothes and have nicer places to live, the film really goes hard on the glamour. There is also a lot included about Destiny's grandmother (Wai Ching Ho) and how her parents had abandoned her. It's true that Keo's parents left and she lived with her grandparents. In the movie, her grandma is a major supporter character and her backstory helps inform Destiny's character.
Keo taking the plea deal happens differently in the movie too, making it a key scene to the changing relationship between Destiny and Ramona. In real life, when Keo took the deal, Barbash found out and, according to Pressler's story, texted her, "We heard you took a deal. Good luck." In the movie, Destiny agrees to a deal when they are first arrested and tells Ramona outside of the police precinct. Both women have very emotional reactions that reflect the bond the two characters share throughout the movie.
The true story behind Hustlers is just about as surprising and fascinating as the film itself. So if you're dying to know more about these women, definitely check out the piece that inspired it.