I know I’m late to the HUSTLERS party, but then again I’ve always been one to show up late. Not just fashionably late, but head turning jaw-dropping icon-worthy when I show up to the occasion. This promise to astound my friends and followers with my shenanigans reached a new level this past weekend when I not only finally saw the masterpiece that is HUSTLERS, BUT that I also got to meet the leading lady of the film, the talented, gorgeous, and icon Ms. Jennifer Lopez aka JLO aka Jenny from the block aka YOU KNOW WHO SHE IS!
If you’re wondering how I got to spend my evening with this queen, here’s a refresher. In the summer of 2017 I interned with the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. You might know them better as the Academy. You know the people who organize the Oscars and make all our dreams come true on screen? Yeah them. Along with getting to network with hundreds of other interns and professionals, the Academy made a commitment to take care of its interns. Some of these benefits included an alumni program, getting a mentor, and being invited to future Academy screenings. Now THAT is how you treat interns.
When HUSTLERS began its theatrical run I immediately knew that this film demanded my attention. The all star cast is what first drew me in, from Constance to Cardi and JLO and more, the cast of this film was a menagerie of strong and talented women. While I wasn’t familiar with the article that inspired it all, I kind of liked going into this movie blind. After the rave reviews the film got at TIFF, from both friends and critics I knew who attended, I knew this movie deserved my presence.
HUSTLERS has been out for a few weeks now, but I knew I wanted to save myself for the Academy’s screening of it. As an amateur connoisseur of cinema, when a movie excites me it prompts me to rush to a theater. Honestly, I had not been this animated to see a movie since Lady GaGa started in A STAR IS BORN. From the premise of a women's perspective into this seductive and mysterious world, that is stripping, to the guaranteed fan service of seeing your favorite stars, this movie was making a statement that it was no chick flick. In fact, one of the producers even said on Saturday that one of her goals for this movie was to, "Show that there can be films about women that are funny, emotional, and powerful and not be called just 'chick flicks.'"
I believe that calling this cast a menagerie is both an injustice but also a compliment to the film. For example, when we first meet JLO she is dripping in diamonds and a leotard that she laughed and called "floss." Her character Ramona is immediately recognizable as the matriarch and one of the most talented dancers in the club. She gives us 3 minutes of one of the most gripping, adrenaline pushing, and unforgettable sequences in any film I've ever seen. JLO's dance routine shows that she's more than ready to share the stage with Shakira at this year's Super Bowl. The women in this film bare their bodies and emotions both to the audiences in the club and to those watching. They're seducing us, they want us to want them, but they are untouchable. That's why I think menagerie works.
The film is important because its writing reminds us that there's layers to women who work in strip clubs. It reminds us that the real life work of women in strip clubs is that of being viewed and reached for, and sometimes being mistreated in this captivity of having no other option. During the panel at the end of the film, director-writer Lorene Scafaria said, "I wanted the women in this film to be complicated and nuance. I wanted to give people a look into this world [stripping] from the perspective that we don't get, which is from a woman."
One of the most amazing things about this film is how the two protagonist, Destiny (Constance) and Ramona (Jennifer Lopez) are mothers working day and night for their daughters. A testament to the heart in this film came from one of the producers. She stood up straight, and in a stern tone talked about what it was like shopping this film around. "We took this film to everyone. Everyone loved it," she said. She then sighed. "But they all said, but these women...can't someone get raped? Can't there be a justification for why they do what they do?"
No doubt, this comment resonated with everyone. She was speaking to stigma people have on stripping, women, and the sheer realities of our world. The room burst into clapping when the director said she could not change the source material because she wanted to honor the experience of these women. JLO upped the energy when she said, "This film shows women doing what they have to, and I hope we can all learn to judge less. People judge me all the time, people all judge, but you don't know what is really happening. We need empathy."
My mentor quickly ushered me to his side and all I could work up to say was, "I have looked up to you my whole life, you deserve an Oscar!" She smiled warmly and said, "Aww thank you very much." I swear, as soon as I met her she was ushered off the stage! Her team spared no extra second keeping her on stage because they knew she would be flocked. Good for them, and great for me that I got my two cents in. On my way home, I had to, and I mean HAD TO, listen to the film's soundtrack on Spotify. I cruised down the 405 playing "Shake That Money" ready to shake my own and make this money for the gas I spent driving to Beverly Hills!
Candidly, I don't get starstruck. In this line of work it's pretty unprofessional to be a fan. But every now and then I let myself enjoy the perks of my hard work. Spending an evening in JLO's presence is just one of those reminders that you gotta work hard and then play hard.
Author William Samayoa
Marketer by profession and storyteller by passion. L.A. raised, proud Latino, and pop culture enthusiast.