Film & TV

Jennifer Lopez’s Female Gangsta-Training Film Is Appalling

Jennifer Lopez and Constance Wu in Hustlers (Alison Cohen Rosa/STX Financing LLC)
The opposite of slut-shaming: ‘female empowerment’ through stripping and hustling

Blame Madonna that media praise for the movie Hustlers defends female exploitation as female empowerment. But Hustlers has shallower roots than any Madonna film or music video. It’s a piece of unoriginal indoctrination, pushing the new vengeful wave of self-promotional, misandrist feminism. (The Kitchen and Widows recently peddled the same.)

Every scene in this caper-voyeur flick lays out the greedy, heartless schemes run by a group of NYC strippers led by Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), Destiny (Constance Wu), Mercedes (Keke Palmer), Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Diamond (Cardi B). They become drug dealers and extortionists to Wall Street businessmen while whining about the 2008 financial crisis. Exploiting themselves to exploit the men who exploit them is tautology that makes sense only to feminist ideologues and Hollywood panderers.

Despite Millennial blather about female agency and economic equality, Hustlers is in a familiar line of post-Madonna Hollywood procurement fantasies. Each woman’s sob story about abuse and resentment brought me back to a 1990 incident: A middle-aged female friend interrupted a group of adolescent girls fawning over Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. She asked them, “What do you think about her being a prostitute?” and the teenager gaggle shot back, “She’s not a prostitute!” Hollywood passed off Roberts’s hooker as Cinderella — or maybe Eliza Doolittle. Naïveté is an easy training ground for the oldest profession.

Then, in 1996’s Set It Off, Queen Latifah, Vivica A. Fox, Jada Pinkett, and Kimberly Elise played hard-luck blue-collar women who become bank robbers to make ends meet. (The premise was later repeated by Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes in 2001’s Mad Money, corrupting the age-old wisdom of women having their own financial means.)

In 1998, rapper Ice Cube performed a tour de force of writing, directing, and acting in The Players Club, a ribald yet serious street drama about Diamond (LisaRaye McCoy), a single mother in Los Angeles who becomes a stripper, literally “working her way through college,” as a 1952 Virginia Mayo–Ronald Reagan movie promised. But Cube’s vernacular classic — and LisaRaye’s bodacious characterization — faced down moral hypocrisy and its unpleasant costs for some. Cube bluntly explored underclass economic advancement, yet liberal Hollywood typically overlooked the achievement of an unpredictable black independent filmmaker pre-Obama.

So it’s no wonder that critics who also ignored Lopez’s career peak El Cantante, in which she vividly portrayed the tough sexy wife of salsa king Hector Lavoe, are excited about this boobs-bling-booty showcase. In Hustlers, Lopez’s single-minded stripper-pole dance — the film’s highpoint — blurs Ramona’s bad-taste desperation with her own. It’s already been acclaimed as a sure-fire Oscar bid as if to encourage being confined to stereotype.

Lopez’s Vegas-y extravaganza isn’t the same as LisaRaye McCoy’s “don’t knock the hustle” realism in The Players Club. She can’t compete with ex-stripper-turned-rapper Cardi B, the film’s only authentic figure (you can bet her character Diamond is surely an homage to McCoy). Yet even Cardi B flounces on the slippery edge of gross, stupid carnality. In hip-hop, humor is Cardi B’s saving grace, but director Lorene Scafaria isn’t a mirthful filmmaker (she highlights Cardi B’s sticking out her tongue).

Scafaria seems to believe this whoremaster self-empowerment crap, credulous about its New York magazine origin. Her stripper-gangstas are, simply, criminals. Hustlers is appalling. The opposite of slut-shaming, it’s been praised as Goodfellas for women — as if that were an honorable thing.

***

In Bob Fosse’s 1969 Sweet Charity (just released on KINO Blu-Ray), three musical numbers make Hustlers irrelevant: “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” performed by a trio of Times Square goodtime girls (Shirley MacLaine, Paula Kelly, Chita Rivera) who climb to the rooftop of the taxi-dance parlor, where they “entertain” men, to dream of being anything but sex workers. “Rhythm of Life” shows MacLaine’s search for spiritual fulfillment through alternative religion (Fosse’s satire on New Age nostrums). In “Hey, Big Spender!” — one of the all-time great movie-musical sequences — each sizzling dance move added a bitter punctuation mark, equalizing tramps and johns in two-way sexual commerce. Fosse’s spectacular, honest, moral leveling still surpasses progressive Hollywood.

Something to Consider

If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content (including the magazine), no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (conference calls, social-media groups, etc.). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going. Consider it?

If you enjoyed this article, and were stimulated by its contents, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS.

LEARN MORE
Armond White, a film critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles.

Most Popular

White House

More Evidence the Guardrails Are Gone

At the end of last month, just as the news of the Ukraine scandal started dominating the news cycle, I argued that we're seeing evidence that the guardrails that staff had placed around Donald Trump's worst instincts were in the process of breaking down. When Trump's staff was at its best, it was possible to draw ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Elizabeth Warren Is Not Honest

If you want to run for office, political consultants will hammer away at one point: Tell stories. People respond to stories. We’ve been a story-telling species since our fur-clad ancestors gathered around campfires. Don’t cite statistics. No one can remember statistics. Make it human. Make it relatable. ... Read More
National Review

Farewell

Today is my last day at National Review. It's an incredibly bittersweet moment. While I've only worked full-time since May, 2015, I've contributed posts and pieces for over fifteen years. NR was the first national platform to publish my work, and now -- thousands of posts and more than a million words later -- I ... Read More
Economy & Business

Andrew Yang, Snake Oil Salesman

Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur and gadfly, has definitely cleared the bar for a successful cause candidate. Not only has he exceeded expectations for his polling and fundraising, not only has he developed a cult following, not only has he got people talking about his signature idea, the universal basic ... Read More
World

Is America Becoming Sinicized?

A little over 40 years ago, Chinese Communist strongman and reformer Deng Xiaoping began 15 years of sweeping economic reforms. They were designed to end the disastrous, even murderous planned economy of Mao Zedong, who died in 1976. The results of Deng’s revolution astonished the world. In four decades, ... Read More