When Hustlers premieres in theaters on Sept. 13, audiences will be treated to a story featuring Robin Hood-types plundering rich Wall Street execs, only this isn't a typical heist plot. It's a bold scam, and its perpetrators are a group of former strippers. What's more, it's based on a true story, which was chronicled in Jessica Pressler's New York Magazine article, "The Hustlers At Scores." Jennifer Lopez stars as the group's ring leader Ramona, a character based on one real-life hustler who played a major role in the scheme.
In Hustlers, each of the women involved in the plot has their own reasons for bilking these men out of their riches. Destiny (Constance Wu) talks about wanting to support her family and her grandmother, and, of course, treating herself once in a while. Ramona speaks about it with some "fight the man, eat the rich" overtones, as she details the myriad ways in which these one-percenters have already scammed the rest of the world out of their money and have yet to face any kind of consequences for doing so. (The financial crash of 2008 affected the their business too, the movie shows. The clientele wasn't showing up or tipping like they used to.) It's with that kind of righteousness that Ramona entices her crew — which also includes Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) — to join her in her scam, which involved drugging men, then taking them to clubs and running up large tabs on their credit cards. Eventually, this all comes toppling down, but not before some glamorous celebrations and elaborate shopping montages take place.
One of the women involved in the real life plot, Stephanie Barbash, has accused Lopez and the film of stealing her story to create the character of Ramona. In a report from the New York Post, Barbash said of her planned lawsuit, "We’re putting a stop to it because [Lopez is] actually misrepresenting me. I was never a stripper. It’s defamation of character. It’s my story she’s making money off of. If she wants to play me, then she should have gotten the real story."
Hustlers isn't a documentary, but writer/director Lorene Scafaria (Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist) did adapt the article, which featured comments from Barbash herself and interviews with Roslyn Keo, on whom Wu's character is loosely based. “Everyone wanted to work with Samantha,” Keo said in the piece. “Because she had a lot of clients and she knew how to work well.” Eventually, the article details, Barbash's business sense led to the formation of a crime ring where the women went "fishing" for marks to bring to the clubs, who gave them commission on those astronomical tabs. One of the participants went to police, as did a victim — and then the dominoes kept falling. For her part, Barbash pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy, assault and grand larceny and was sentenced to five years of probation.
Still, in 2019, Barbash, who now works at a spa, claimed to the Post that the article itself was "bogus" and that she never pole danced, like Lopez does in the film. "She is considering all legal avenues with the possibility injunctive relief, including a lawsuit," said her lawyer Bruno Gioffre.
The Post indicated that requests for comment from Lopez and STX Entertainment went unanswered. And to date, neither the company nor the actor have responded to Barbash's claims. There also aren't any official reports that Barbash did move forward with a suit of any kind, so it certainly seems that Hustlers will premiere as planned and bring this almost unbelievable, controversial story to life onscreen.