Quantcast

'Hustlers': Confessions Of A Former Stripper Who Hustled Investment Bankers Day & Night

What Hustlers gets right and what it gets really, really wrong.

Her Voice

"This whole country is a strip club. Someone's dancing, someone's throwing the money." - 'Hustlers', 2019

I worked for investment bankers during the day then hustled them at night. If you've recently seen the movie Hustlers, just know that I worked in that exact kind of club environment. I now spend a great deal of time in the capital of New Jersey. It's a tiny township that was devastated by the 2008 financial crisis. It doesn't look like it ever recovered in 2019. Did the big corporations ever get brought to justice for ravaging an entire country? They did not.

It was the early aughts. I was fresh out of my fancy university with two degrees. Being a young performer in NY meant having many flexible jobs. A "culturally ambiguous" name to put on a resume and training in Linklater standard American speech didn't hurt. The look on their faces at the big banks when I walked in was always priceless. As a temp, I was Executive Assistant to C-Suite Executives in several of the big banks in NY. In old New York, the degrees allowed me to learn well as a young, single person.

As a young woman in corporate America, I was often ignored or spoken to with insolence.

People would have entire conversations as if I was transparent, filled with details that I should not have been privy to. Apparently, I was invisible unless I was being patronized by men in the higher positions. In response to one particular boss, initially, I'd just do things like forget to make his travel plans until the last minute. Eventually, I reported him to HR. Finally, I emphatically informed him that I was more educated than he was and even if I was not, I deserved to be treated with respect like a person. Then, I quit.

At night, letting almost everything they said slide off was the gig. It can be hard to constantly have the proverbial smile and nod while simultaneously avoiding being touched beyond your boundaries. Shape shift, life of the party, flirt, sift cash from pockets, shimmy, wash (or baby wipe) and repeat. If the way these men spent on corporate accounts was any indication of how they conducted business in general, I see why we went into recession.

Giphy

Even paying for a stripper's time, the high of having a life that meant you could have anything that money could buy, seemed like their real addiction. Masters of the Universe who hounded their assistants to get reimbursed for lavish "business dinners at steakhouses". They spent money like it wasn't real every night and I got to be rushed to finish expense account reimbursements. Unlike my assertive real-life self, my stripper persona was whatever it needed to be to make the most money. It's not as easy as showing up, getting naked, and going home with bags full of cash. Although, as if invisible, I'd hear conversations about business deals I'm sure I shouldn't hear. I wasn't there to be acknowledged. I didn't care. I was there to work.

At the end of a good night at the club, I felt properly compensated for my labor. At the end of a bad night at the club (leaving owing money to the club), I'd question every life decision I ever made. But every single morning without fail, I'd cry in the bathroom stall before heading to my cubicle. I'd grin and bear my day away. It was made extremely clear about my low rung on the corporate ladder. I stopped temping in Corporate America. I chased good nights in clubs for a decade instead. I, too, left my upstanding job.

Giphy

Hustlers did a great job of showing the backstories of the women. How does a nice girl like you end up in a place like this? Because America is a place where you can work forty hours a week and not be able to pay all your bills. Every one of us has a unique life story. Hustlers shows that strippers don't just exist in a vacuum of spandex, stilettos and stages. People seldom consider the life of someone in sex work beyond the stigma, judgement of morals and the fact that they get some level of naked for a living. When I heard that the film hired the lovely Jacq the Stripper as a consultant, I was excited! She's someone who has actually done the job and speaks up for sex worker rights quite audibly. There are nuances that feel like inside jokes only other strippers will get. That gave the movie a nice authentic touch.

Then, watching the interview on 20/20 with the real life hustler, I hear that the story was made despite Destiny (played in the film by Constance Wu) turning down a lowball deal to sell the rights to her life story. This is how marginalized and stigmatized groups become silenced and made invisible. To profit from the lives of these women without permission or compensation falls right in line with experiences women have when working in the mainstream culture at large.

media3.giphy.com

Asserting myself in corporate America gets me fired (or quitting first). Submitting to an exoticized fantasy of myself gets me paid well. However, the true value of the whole human is never acknowledged. A filmmaker can be shouting women's empowerment while simultaneously silently stealing from the same women she's profiting from.

I love that there is finally a strip flick that goes beyond the stereotypical telling of the industry. I'd also be lying if I said that I don't love a good underdog-getting-over-on-the-man story as well. In the end the "bad guys" get their due. However, it should not be lost that the women whose lives Hollywood is profiting from will now have to hustle to get properly compensated for their own life stories in other ways, if at all. Destiny is working on her memoir. If the others don't create a way to leverage this moment, they get nothing from this theft. According to The-numbers.com, Hustlers has made $66,260,645 nationally, $9,800,000 internationally and $76,060,645 worldwide in box offices [at the time this article was written]. Payback? Do the masterminds of this crime spree deserve to be compensated for a film about it?

I frequent a community that is filled with abandoned houses, neighborhoods devastated by unchecked and unpunished criminal-level corporate greed. Would you be mad that someone got to keep their house because their stripper loved one paid it off? Like Destiny in the film, many of us have the ten-year gap on our resumes. Are you hiring someone with a ten-year lapse in work experience? I haven't danced for about a decade but consultant after business consultant has warned me not to talk about my stripping past. In 2019, shame and stigma are weapons of legalized discrimination towards certain groups.

media.giphy.com

Stipppers and sex workers like, returning citizens, like sexual assault survivors, like those managing mental health, like immigrants, Native Americans and the LGBTQIA community (especially Black trans women), all exist in this world. It can feel like living on the outside looking in as society happens all around you.

Hooray for making a film where strippers are people, complex and flawed as all people typically are. But do better not to take advantage of people who are not in positions of power. There's no way to make drugging and stealing from people justifiable. There's also no way to make the greed-fueled capitalism that sunk this country in 2008 and continues to run this country today, defensible. There's no way punishing one and not the other could ever possibly be right. Hustlers film should duly compensate both the women whose lives this is about, dancers they did research from and the displaced workers of Show Palace in Queens where the film was shot. They were out of work for two weeks.

What would be amazing is if projects like this helped to remove the stigma from stripping and sex work versus profitting from dancers like they're a diregarded co-worker in the room you condescendingly underestimate and devalue. The director of the film is now hustling backwards, claiming she'll spend money at the club whenever she is in town and will donate a percentage of the film's earnings to SWOP. All an afterthought. Reminds me of working in good ole Corporate US of A. where what you provide is useful but you are dispensable. Is the character Destiny wrong when she says: "The game is rigged and it does not reward people who play by the rules"?

As long as they don't get caught, that is.

xoNecole is always looking for new voices and empowering stories to add to our platform. If you have an interesting story or personal essay that you'd love to share, we'd love to hear from you. Contact us at submissions@xonecole.com.

Featured image by Giphy

I’m sure a high percentage of people who chose to click this article either are fixers, former fixers, or maybe they want to understand why fixers feel the need to make it their responsibility to change everyone. Well, for one, barely anyone who fits the bill knows why they do what they do until it exhausts them—like myself. I have been a fixer for as long as I can remember. I’ve always loved fighting for the underdog. Something about being needed for the betterment of people’s lives has always felt very fulfilling to me. That is until I’d invested so much in many close relationships that it backfired on me. And like many fixers, I would question how I could have offered so much, yet people treated me anyhow in the end?

Keep reading... Show less
The daily empowerment fix you need.
Make things inbox official.

When I first heard about Harlem, the new Amazon series about four Black girlfriends in the city, I admit, I wasn't a fan. There, I said it. I'm a child of the golden era of Girlfriends, Living Single, Friends, Moesha, Sex and the City, and The L Word. My friends and I were real-life offspring of these constructs who had a lot in common with the women of those shows. Even after enjoying a season of the similar new Showtime series Run the World, I'd had enough of stories about friends "navigating their way through" their 20s, or 30s, or 40s. I loved these shows, but thought to myself, "Why do we need a Harlem? Can't we tell other stories?"

Keep reading... Show less

Nick Cannon is letting viewers in on a little secret about himself that is common with many people, yet surprising coming from the actor. On his self-titled talk show, the TV host along with a group of other men got vulnerable about their insecurities in the bedroom. Nick kicked it off by revealing his insecurity first.

Keep reading... Show less

As someone who has always considered themselves beautiful at any size, I can't say that I have always loved my body. Sure, there have been moments where I thought I was the sexiest thing walking. But for the most part, all I saw when I looked in the mirror were flaws. My thighs were always too big. Butt full of dimples from cellulite. Boobs always in the way. And my arms too jiggly.

Keep reading... Show less

The NAACP Image Awards have released their nominations for 2022 and some of our favorites have been nominated. From television series like Insecure to films like The Harder They Fall and music artists like Saweetie and Jazmine Sullivan, the annual show, which is known for Black excellence is sure to blow us away this year with the amount of talent nominated in the various categories.

Keep reading... Show less
Exclusive Interviews

Boris Kodjoe And Nicole Ari Parker Know “When To Bring Work Home” For Their New Film 'Safe Room'

The husband-and-wife dream team have found their sweet spot.

Latest Posts