What do real-life hustlers think of the hit movie 'Hustlers'? 3 former exotic dancers weigh in

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  • The film "Hustlers" hit theatres in early September and has become a critically acclaimed box-office smash.
  • But what do real life hustlers think of the $33 million-dollar success? We asked three women who worked as exotic dancers during the same era to reflect on the film's accuracy.
  • "There were moments ... that just rang so true," said one woman who worked as a stripper in Seattle from 2012 to 2015.
  • "I wish I could say that this film humanized dancers to the general public, but I'm afraid it has not," said another, who was an exotic dancer in New York City and Las Vegas from 2000 to 2010.
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Director Lorene Scafaria's film, "Hustlers," is a box-office smash and a darling of professional film critics.

Washington Post's Ann Hornaday described the movie - which follows a crew of high-end strippers who band together to turn the tables on their wealthy Wall Street clients - as a "funny, naughty, entertaining kick in the pants." New Statesman declared it "a refreshing example of changing attitude towards sex work," while The Nation called it a "subversive joy," featuring women rebels who critic Joshunda Sanders characterize as "quite literally stealing back their power."

But what do real life hustlers think of the $33 million-dollar success? We asked three women who worked as exotic dancers during the same era to reflect on the film's accuracy, as well as their time on stage. Here's what they said.

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Maggie McMuffin

Maggie McMuffin

Worked as a stripper in Seattle from 2012 to 2015

There were moments [of the movie] that just rang so true. The montage of lap dances and then getting shut down. Management being sh*tty. Bouncers saying they won't help if you don't tip.

I've seen people point out that the movie shames [dancers who sell] "extras" and full-service work (strippers who sleep with clients). I'm torn on that because I don't want civilians to see that and think the only heroic strippers are the ones who don't give blowjobs. On the other hand, a lot of strippers are really sh*tty to workers who do that, so how it was presented felt like an accurate representation.

I took a lot of joy in watching sex workers flat out steal from a-hole men. It was a power fantasy for me and I think a lot of us dancers. [Sex workers] are already criminals [in most people's eyes, so I guess I'm not as offended by us being presented as criminals if we're also being presented as real people.

It did need to be more gay though. I don't buy that a group of sex workers that big didn't contain a single queer person.

The club [where I worked] had some of the highest house fees in the country. It was already hard to work in for lots of reasons but then there was this few months where people weren't coming in. There wasn't much money for anyone. And management was just pumping us for more fees, talking about raising house fees, yelling at us for not working harder, good security guys were leaving. I knew if I didn't leave I was going to wind up hating my job. I transitioned to full-service sex work (both independently and in legal brothels). I've been doing that since, along with some porn and sugaring here and there. I like my job. It's right for me. It's also just part of my life. It's one of the least interesting things about me, but it's the thing I find myself explaining to people the most.

Read more: A legal sex worker shares what it's really like to work in a brothel

Essence Revealed

Essence Revealed

Worked as an exotic dancer in New York City and Las Vegas from 2000 to 2010

I liked that there were jokes in there that only strippers would get. The dressing room sisterhood scenes were great. Showing how much we pay out to work is something many outsiders are unaware of.

People only think about the fact that we take off clothes and make money. I don't think people believe me when I say that I got paid to mostly sell conversation and flirty attention. The job is a sales job. The product was flirty conversation and attention with dancing thrown in. I preferred talking to them. My goal was how long can I keep my dress on in the VIP Room, so I liked seeing the scenes of them dancing for the customers still wearing their dress. Sometimes, there was no engaging [sexually] — only conversation. This was one of the hardest parts of the job — doing everything you can to stay within your own boundaries.

I retired when the investment bankers lost their jobs, and expense accounts. It was no longer lots of money for just conversation and air dances. These had been my products, and they were no longer in demand. I don't knock anyone's hustle, I just know where my personal boundaries at that time were.

That scene where Destiny tries to get a retail job, and couldn't even get that, hit so hard. That sh*t is real. People think I freelance just because. It's because I have no resume that commands the kind of base pay I'd find acceptable for 60-80 hours of my week.

No one feels the need to be polite to strippers — not even the film's producers, because they had the club closed for two weeks without compensating the real strippers who were out two weeks' pay. I wish I could say that this film humanized dancers to the general public, but I'm afraid it has not.

Akynos

Akynos

Danced in the Bronx in the mid-90s

It was a very diverse group of characters as far as size and color, and I appreciated and respected them for doing that. But real strippers who have actually worked in these clubs know that that's a farce. In a club like Hustlers — which is a very high end, white club — you would never see two black girls working in this club. Not at the same time anyway. Especially the dark-skinned black girl — or a black girl who's hair is afroed and kinky? In a club like Hustlers, there's no way you would never actually see that. Usually they have a token black girl.

And you would not see a fat girl. Maybe if she was white, and she had started out working there, and had been working there for a long time. Clubs like Hustlers, they're completely racist in how they book dancers. Someone like me— and I've tried this before, to come into clubs like that — they literally won't even let me walk in the door. Too short, too black, too fat — even when I was 30 pounds thinner, and younger. We know that was a lie, but I still appreciate them for giving fat and black women roles in this movie, because we do exist in this industry.

I did not work in a very high-end club. I worked in the trenches of the Bronx. A very famous club, but very hood. Lots of hip hop music. Lots of Latinos. Lots of black people. But as a black woman dancer I didn't really stand to make a lot of money most times because I was dark-skinned. It could be super challenging, which is why I ended up leaving. I couldn't compete with girls coming in — well, in the movies, they were selling $300 blowjobs, but in the clubs I worked at, they'd be coming in and doing shit for $50. At that time, I just wanted to dance.

Melissa Petro is a freelance writer living in New York.

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