Hustlers was one of the great American films of 2019. It was timely and entertaining, exciting and tragic, and an all-around knockout crime movie that lives in the grey. Writer-director Lorene Scafaria’s third feature film was a major hit, too, grossing over $157 million worldwide for STX Entertainment. Now, STX is facing a defamation lawsuit from Samantha Barbash, who Jennifer Lopez’s character, Ramona, was based on.
The movie is adapted from an excellent article by writer Jessica Pressler, who told the true story of how Barbash and her accomplices drugged and robbed very rich men. There’s far more to the story than that and much more nuance, but Barbash wasn’t pleased with Lopez’s portrayal of her in the movie. Even though it’s a very empathetic depiction, Barbash claims it’s damaged her personal and professional reputation.
The lawsuit states (Source: The Wrap):
“As a direct and intended consequence of the defendants’ promotion and marketing of the film, Ms. Barbash’s name became heavily entrenched in the film’s media coverage long before the movie ever premiered. Defendants did not take caution to protect the rights of Ms. Barbash by creating a fictionalized character, or by creating a composite of characters to render J. Lo’s character a new fictitious one. Rather they engaged in a systemic effort to make it well known that J. Lo was playing Ms. Barbash.”
Before the movie even opened, Barbash was threatening to sue for the following reason from her lawsuit:
“Defendants attempted to obtain a consent and waiver from Ms. Barbash for the production of the film and their ultimate portrayal of the plaintiff therein. However, Ms. Barbash refused to give her consent or waive any of her privacy rights. Nonetheless with blatant disregard for their lack of authority and/or consent, defendants proceeded to exploit Ms. Barbash’s likeness and character for the film and the promotion thereof.”
She’s seeking over $40 million in damages, both compensatory damages and exemplary damages. Weirdly, the movie made her look a whole lot better than the article did, partially because Lopez was playing her. There was real humanity, charm, and ferociousness in Lopez’s depiction. It was nuanced and real, honest or not.
STX’s Boss Response
Apparently, the lawyers at STX Entertainment have yet to read the lawsuit, but they did provide a swift statement to The Wrap:
“We will continue to defend our right to tell factually based stories based on the public record.”
A Similar Case
The studio behind Hustlers will probably be just fine considering their first amendment right, which is the reason why a recent and similar lawsuit over a high-profile project never had its day in court. Last year, Gone with the Wind actress Olivia de Havilland attempted to sue FX over her scathing portrayal in Ryan Murphy’s FX series, Feud, about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. The court system swatted the lawsuit away like a fly.
Make This Your Reminder to Watch Hustlers Again
There’s never a bad time to revisit Hustlers. The crime movie is entertaining as hell, has a wildly charismatic cast, and everything from drama to comedy to suspense. Scafaria took a messy, relevant true story and milked it for all its nuances, moral ambiguity, and drama and escapism. It’s a full-package movie led by Constance Wu and Jennifer Lopez at the top of their games. Both Wu and Lopez haven’t been getting the awards love they deserve for the movie, and neither has Scafaria’s script, but nonetheless, it’s a crime movie that will forever endure. Who would ever say no to Hustlers when they cross it on cable?
Related: 20 Movies To See In 2020