• Tue, 15, Oct, 2019 - 5:00:AM

You can’t love Hustlers and despise sex workers

Making a Movie in 29 Days! | Hustlers BTS Part 2 | YouTube

There’s a fantastic moment in the buoyant first hour of Hustlers, the stripper-heist film blowing up local cinemas. Woman-of-the-hour Lizzo (in a too-short cameo) hurtles into the strip club backroom, pasty-covered breasts flailing in her haste, and breathlessly announces; “Bitch! Motherfucking Usher is here!”

Screaming ensues as the dancers rush the stage; the DJ blasts Love in This Club and Usher (in impeccable 2007 self-costume) swaggers on in.

The scene is easily one of the film’s highlights. A deep sense of nostalgia filled the room at the screening I attended. As protagonist Destiny (Constance Wu) relays via voiceover: 2007 was the friggin’ best.

The difference, of course, is that while many of us in that audience spent 2007 shaking our booties to Usher (and Timbaland, and T-Pain), we were generally doing so at house parties, and not at strip clubs. And while the Usher scene reminds us that these strippers (based on real people) exist in our timeline, it also serves to remind that, while sex work can sometimes look like partying, it’s quite something else. The jubilant moment jars against other, greyer scenes, like when a Wall Street jack-off teases Destiny for her presumed daddy issues, or later still when a John coerces her to perform a forbidden sex act and then stiffs her on the payment.

The aesthetics of sex work have been in vogue for a long time now. Dropping support for sex workers when they no longer suit has been in vogue for a long time too. Nicki Minaj, as example, has long adopted both sex work aesthetics and sex work philosophies. And yet, in this interview, she expresses disdain for, and disappointment in, women who actually have sex for money. She copped a lot of heat for the stance, but it’s not an uncommon position – especially for a person of mainstream success. A lot of folks who purport to be liberal let the side down when it comes to sex work. While presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren is a liberal (even a progressive) by anybody’s standard, she has also sponsored the End Banking for Human Traffickers Act of 2017, a Senate bill that’s been wholly criticized by U.S. sex workers as unhelpful and flawed.

While New Zealand lays claim to some of the most liberal prostitution laws in the world, a deep stigma surrounds the business still – making life difficult for those workers who engage in it.

Launching in Auckland next month is Nuud Cleaning, a service through which people can hire topless and naked home cleaners. It’s certainly an interesting venture, and sounds like a fun experience to be had between consenting, enthusiastic participants – but the owner Josh Vitali refuses to call the service sex work, saying his cleaners won’t be sexualised and would not offer sexual services. To be clear, all ethical sex work has well-defined boundaries. The New Zealand Prostitutes Collective says the service is ‘absolutely sexual’ and the business must take care to keep its workers safe. But Vitali’s umbrage with the term ‘sex work’, a bias he may pass down to his workers, could keep his employees from engaging with the NZPC and other such services.

More seriously, a Christchurch man was recently sentenced to five months home detention after he assaulted two sex workers who he'd paid for sex. Both victims, who he drove to a cemetery, were apparently “terrified and thought they were going to die”.

Everyone agrees that incidents like the above are shocking and terrible – and yet, they are much more likely to occur in a landscape where sex work is stigmatised.

Hustlers is a fantastic movie – and you should see it for J. Lo’s performance alone. But we live in a country where prominent sports players abuse strippers and assume they won’t face consequences for their actions. Things have to change. We’ve got a lot of growing up to do.

If you go along to Hustlers you're sure to have a good time, but don't think you can enjoy such delights while tut-tutting about sex work.


  • Sex Work /
  • Feminism /
  • Women /
  • Hustlers /
  • Movies /
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