The True Story of 'Hustlers': Real Life vs. The Movie
By John Boone
Courtesy of STXfilms
The team behind Hustlers wants to make it very clear that their movie is only inspired by journalist Jessica Pressler's 2015 New York Magazine article, "The Hustlers at Scores." Meaning, what you see on screen isn't exactly how it went down in real life. Instead, those events served as the springboard for writer-director Lorene Scafaria to spin her own story of strippers turning the tables on their Wall Street clientele.
And though the overall gist is the same, and certain characters line up -- albeit with different names; for example, Pressler's stand-in is the Julia Stiles character, Elizabeth -- the cast want it to be known that they are portraying just that: characters, not the real people. "If [Lorene] had wanted me to talk to that person, I definitely would have," Lili Reinhart told ET. Still, for those curious readers, here is how Hustlers ultimately stacks up to the hustlers who inspired it.
In the movie: Constance Wu plays Dorothy, aka "Destiny," who lives with her ailing grandma in Queens and starts dancing to help pay the bills. At the club, she's taken under Ramona's wing and taught the ways of manipulating men. At one point, she has a regular who buys her a new laptop, just because he likes watching her study. She gets pregnant by her on-off boyfriend (played by G-Eazy) and gives birth to a daughter, briefly leaving stripping behind before returning for the titular hustle. In the movie's 2014 timeline, Destiny tells Elizabeth, "I could have worked on Wall Street."
In real life: Roselyn Keo, aka "Rosie," was living with her grandparents and brother in Rockland County and working as a diner waitress when she was recruited to dance. (She took the gig to help keep her grandparents afloat.) In the early aughts, she met Samantha Foxx at Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, and they began working the club together. At one point, Rosie had a regular, "Brian," who liked to sit and watch her study. Rosie eventually got pregnant by her on-again, off-again boyfriend and had a daughter. The first line of Pressler's story is, "In another life, Roselyn 'Rosie' Keo might have liked to work on Wall Street."
In the movie: Jennifer Lopez plays Ramona, a one-time Playboy centerfold with a giant rose tattooed on her back. Ramona is one of Moves' top dancers and prone to saying things like, "Doesn't money make your horny?" She's also an aspiring swimwear designer (her line of denim swimsuits is called "Swimona") and a single mother to a daughter, Juliette. For a brief period, she takes a retail job at Old Navy, but can't make ends meet on minimum wage and is forced back to the club, only to learn she's no longer one of the prized younger girls.
In real life: Samantha Barbash, aka Samantha Foxx, was allegedly one of the top dancers at Larry Flynt's Hustlers Club. I say "allegedly" because, as Barbash told New York Post, "I was never a stripper. It's defamation of character." A Bronx native with a trail of stars tattooed down her back, she was in her 30s when she met Rosie and was eager to ally younger dancers to herself. Outside the club, she was a single mother raising a son and had dreams of starting her own swimsuit line.
In the movie: Ramona recruits Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) and Mercedes (Kiki Palmer) to help "fish" for clients, which involves flirting with wealthy men in bars in hopes of luring them to the club. Ramona also uses photos of the two to entice clients. Annabelle is sweet but naïve, and prone to vomiting, which becomes a running gag throughout Hustlers. Mercedes, who also works alongside Ramona at Old Navy, is saving up to hire a lawyer for her incarcerated boyfriend. For Christmas, Ramona and Destiny gift Mercedes a pair of Louboutins.
In real life: Samantha was cultivating younger dancers for the same reason -- she called it "marketing" -- and would send her contacts photos of Karina Pascucci, who Pressler describes as a "younger," "natural-looking" Samantha doppleganger, and Marsi Rosen, who at the time was dating a convicted drug dealer. (In actuality, Samantha and Rosie gifted "their favorite prostitute" Louboutins for Christmas.)
The R&B STAR
In the movie: Destiny's dancing glory days reach their peak when Liz (the dancer-and-flutist played by Lizzo) charges into their dressing room to announce that, "Motherf**king Usher is here. Usher, bitch!" And then, yes, Usher Raymond IV himself appears for a cameo, throwing money next to the main stage as all the Moves ladies dance to his music.
In real life: Pressler's story only off-handedly references the "celebrities and athletes" that would frequent Scores. But in a 2008 New York Post story titled "Confessions of an Ex Scores Stripper," Ruth Fowler wrote of her time at the club, "Someone like Usher would wander in with a huge entourage, and you'd start to feel like you were in some insane mobster movie, and all the bad things about the place would feel glamorous and cool...All the girls lined up in one long row to dance for Usher."
In the movie: After the financial crisis of the late 2000s, Destiny returns to Moves and finds that the dancers are all Russian girls who, she says, are willing to give oral sex for "$300 a pop." That's when she reunites with Ramona and discovers what she, Annabelle and Mercedes are up to: First, one approaches a guy at a bar and buys him a drink, then her "sisters" show up and keep the party going long enough to convince the mark to accompany them to the strip club. If he's hesitant, or just to ensure they can bilk him for all that he's worth, they spike his drink with a dose of ketamine and MDMA. Then they run his credit card to the limit. Ramona has to talk Destiny into being part of it.
In real life: Rosie is quoted in Pressler's piece saying that when she returned to the strip club in 2008, "there were all these Russian girls and Colombian girls, and they were giving blow jobs for $300." Since the Wall Street guys weren't coming in droves anymore, Samantha, Karina and Marsi went to them, got them drunk and directed them to the club, where they negotiated a cut of what he spent. If the guy didn't seem like the strip club type or they wanted to max out his card because they felt he was being "annoying," the women would add ketamine and MDMA to his drink. Rosie realized what they were doing and asked Samantha if she could be part of it.
In the movie: Things get out of control when Ramona decides to cut out the club and starts doing hotel and house calls with girls recruited via Craigslist. That's how they end up working with Dawn (Madeline Brewer), a drug addict with a criminal record who Destiny doesn't trust. After they dose and then max out the corporate card of a man named Doug, his company fires him. At the same time, his house burns down and the mother of his children divorces him. He convinces an unwitting Dawn to explain what happened to him while recording the phone call, resulting in her wearing a wire during a police sting on Destiny and Ramona.
In the end, enough victims come forward that the police are able to issue arrest warrants. The cops pick Ramona up at an ATM, cash in hand. Destiny accepts the plea deal in exchange for no jail time. Ramona gets five years probation and Annabelle and Mercedes have to spend weekends in jail for four months. After copping to a deal, Destiny shares the news with an emotional Ramona outside the police station and the two earnestly wish each other the best before going their separate ways.
In real life: Samantha outsourced some calls to prostitutes she found on Backpage and Craigslist, including an ex-stripper named "Marjorie" who had previous run-ins with the law. After fleecing a client named "Fred," whose home was destroyed by a hurricane and who recently separated from the mother of his child, Marjorie admitted to him what had happened: They drugged him and maxed out his corporate card, which is why his company fired him. Fred relayed the recorded call to DEA agents, who enlisted Marjorie for a sting operation.
Ultimately, enough men came forth with the same story that the police arrested the women. They picked up Samantha at an ATM. Rosie, Samantha, Karina and Marsi were all charged with forgery, conspiracy, grand larceny and assault. Rosie accepted the plea deal. The other women pled guilty to conspiracy, assault and grand larceny. Samantha got probation, while Karina and Marsi were sentenced to spend weekends in jail for four months. When Samantha learned that Rosie copped to the plea deal, she texted her: "Good luck."