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A Consultant for 'Hustlers' Explains Why Hollywood Gets Strippers Wrong

Jacq the Stripper explains her work on the box office hit, the unionization of sex workers, and why it's time for more positive depictions of stripping.

by Alex Zaragoza
Sep 25 2019, 11:00am

Left photo by Mike Coppola / Getty; right courtesy Hustlers

Hustlers, Lorene Scafaria's tale inspired by a New York Magazine article about the real-life New York City strippers who made stacks of cash by drugging clients and charging their credit cards thousands of dollars, has received mostly rave reviews from critics as well as the internet at large.

But it hasn't all been fat stacks and endless GIFs of Jennifer Lopez dancing to Fiona Apple's "Criminal." Samantha Barbash, who inspired Lopez's character Ramona, bashed Lopez and the film to TMZ, saying "they pretty much stole my story" after she claiming producers tried to get her to "sign away" her rights. She is now threatening to sue. VICE also reported on complaints made by the strippers at Show Palace, where the film was shot, who allege that they lost thousands in earnings when the club was shut down for a week of filming.

These issues have been on the mind of Jacqueline Frances, who goes by Jacq the Stripper. The stripper and entertainer served as the comfort and authenticity consultant as well as a stripping consultant on Hustlers. Jacq worked closely with staff and crew to ensure they were able to perform in a comfortable setting and that the work of the dancers was portrayed authentically. Through her work, and Scafaria's attention to centering the female gaze and non-judgmental depiction of sex work, they did their best to tell this fascinating story with attention to detail within a safe environment.

"There's this misconception that when you're a stripper you just show up and act sexy according to what somebody else thinks is sexy, and I disagree with that," Jacq told VICE. "Stripping is when show up and you express your own sexuality and people pay you for that. So it's about finding what works for each individual actor, and how we can make that come to life on screen because the last thing we want is people to feel uncomfortable doing this work."

We sat down with Jacq to talk more about her work behind the scenes of Hustlers, and the importance of honoring the work of strippers on and off the big screen.

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VICE: It's been amazing to see the reaction to this film, especially when it comes to the discussion around sex work and the work strippers do. How has it been for you, seeing that?
Jacq the Stripper: It's been a wild ride. It's really cool to see so many of the labor issues strippers face out on the big screen acted out by J.Lo. It's pretty cool and validating, actually.

It's a huge conversation. It's just starting to uncover a lot of the things strippers have to experience just to be able to make a living. Like, the way the movie opens with [Constance Wu] paying out everybody and leaving with practically nothing. That is the reality of almost every stripper in this country.

I know there's been some conversation among some of the dancers at Show Palace [where Hustlers was filmed], and strippers overall, feeling conflicted about the film's portrayal of the industry and of how filming led to lost wages for real-life strippers. How does all that resonate for you?
I am very familiar with having been an independent contractor. And the fact that the club just gets shut down [for events like this]. The club gets paid handsomely to rent out their club for a week, and then strippers do not get paid. This is a huge problem. This has always been a huge problem. Every stripper across the country is an independent contractor. When the club closes, we don't get paid, and it sucks. The last thing Lorene wants is for strippers to be out of work. This is supposed to be a celebration of hard-working strippers, and, yeah, it totally sucks that strippers have no job security. These things happen and we need to be talking about it.

Can you speak a bit about unionization efforts among strippers, and how they tend to unfold?
The labor rights issues within stripping is something I'd like to take the opportunity to pass the mic onto someone who can speak to it much better than I can. Unionizing is an effort that I would love to see happen, but here's the thing: The stigma against strippers is so great that strippers think the work that they do isn't real sometimes. And hopefully this movie sheds light on the fact that it is real work. But when we're criticized so heavily by mainstream culture, when we're raised to believe our work isn't [legitimate] or that our work is pathetic and sad and desperate, how can we possibly believe in our work enough to fight for labor rights? We have so far to go in that respect, because a lot of us think this is a fleeting job in this gig economy. I'm hoping there's a shift there. I'm hoping that we see this as work that is valid; that is worthy of stability and security and protections.

A lot of us who are speaking out about unionizing are getting blacklisted from clubs. I can't even work in most clubs anymore. Speaking out really does affect your job security. Our activists are getting fired.

It's shocking that violence against strippers, and women in general, is still played on screen so often for laughs.
Or like stiffing a stripper, or not paying her, or making fun of her. You paid a cover charge to walk into an establishment that is designed to entertain you. You paid to walk in. You're not suddenly smarter or better than these people. You are participating. Do you want to be a good person and be respectful, or do you want to be a piece of shit? You have two choices. Male entitlement is a serious problem in our culture. [laughs] I don't know if you've noticed.

But that also speaks to the stigmatization of sex work. Men are conditioned to think it's sad or pathetic to pay a sex worker, and that's also toxic and a problem. We need to empower johns in knowing that they're perfectly fine, whether they're going to the grocery store to buy something, or paying a therapist, or paying a massage therapist, or they want to go to the barber and get a head massage, or they want to have a stripper sit on their lap and rub their ass in their face. All of those are perfectly fair transactions that [no one] should not be ashamed to invest in.

Having done this work for so long, do you feel stripping is being honored in the way it should be in the film?
When I found out this movie was being made, I was obviously nervous because, up until this point, sex worker representation in movies has been trash. And it's a really complicated one because it's not regular, slice of life, day-to-day strippers—it's a heist. But I think this is a really fun and compassionate take on strippers and that's what I want to see more of. And I think the success of this film is indicative of some willingness to put strippers at the forefront of the narrative, and people will go out to see it twice. I hope Hollywood takes this cue and says, "let's invest in these stories, and let's employ consultants and real sex workers to make it real."

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.