Film Buzz: ‘Hustlers’ message that sex equals power causes clash of morals for conservative Christian viewers
Lyra Perry // EEW Magazine // Film + Culture
“Hustlers,” at its core, is a true story about a group of New York City strippers that execute a plot to use their sexuality for a come-up at the expense of Wall Street fat cats.
Though the film (obviously) shows nudity and seductive dancing, highlights prostitution, and other activities deemed commonplace in society’s underbelly, it is important to note that, in today’s cultural climate, many women do see—and use— their own sexuality as a tool of empowerment and advancement.
We must not forget that writer and director Lorene Scafaria adapted Jessica Pressler’s revealing New York Magazine story for the big screen. This is not a fictional tale, though some liberties were taken, which is always the case in adaptations.
Superstar Jennifer Lopez, who is among the producers of the film, told Good Morning America the storyline “goes deeper than what you think it does,” and the plot, on a fundamental level, is about “being in control in life.”
In the real world, it is undeniable that a new way of thinking about sex and sexuality has emerged among the more progressive sect that embraces “sex positivity,” meaning, sexuality should not be shamed or stigmatized and others’ choices about sex—even if they differ from one’s own—should be affirmed.
In essence, anything goes if it makes the person employing those sexual practices and exhibiting certain behaviors feel happy and fulfilled by them.
As this mentality takes hold, its effects are seen through Instagram culture, where women parade their often surgically-enhanced physiques for likes and clout that, many times, translates into massive followings, fame and lucrative business deals.
Ask some culturally-influenced young Millennials and they will tell you that’s the goal. After all, it is what they see around them.
The new sex-positive generation is being led by influential women like iconic singer Beyoncé, who says in one of her most famous quotes, "There is unbelievable power in ownership, and women should own their sexuality.”
Those that submit to this school of thought equate sex with power, control, ownership, strength and feminism. Sex is power—a theme “Hustlers” underscores and a logic it exploits.
The film features a roster of high-profile entertainers including hip-hop stars Cardi B and Lizzo, and “Crazy Rich Asians” star, Constance Wu, who narrates and guides viewers through this seedy criminal world created by the 2008 stock market crash.
For conservative Christians that still espouse the biblical virtues of chastity, abstinence and modesty, preaching and instilling such morals to a “Hustlers” generation is fraught with challenges.
Commonsense Media, a family-focused entertainment review site frequented by conservative-leaning adults, warns, “Parents need to know that greed is portrayed as good in Hustlers, which mixes themes of female empowerment and friendship with criminal, unethical behavior.”
The review goes on to say, that “stripping comes across as the key to a glamorous life, in which women can get rich quick by using their sexuality as a weapon”—or more aptly, a tool.
One of the movie’s stars, Destiny, a stripper played by Wu, the new girl at the adult club, says it best in her narration: "This is a story about control.”
Conservative women of faith that believe God should be in control—if they dare venture into the theater to see “Hustlers”—will experience a clash of morals, as the film teaches that money is God and sex is power.
"Hustlers" premieres Sept. 13 in the US. It's rated R.