Most of us would probably trust Jennifer Lopez with our lives if it came to it, so it’s no surprise that she’s playing the ring-leader in a group of literal hustlers in the new true crime movie Hustlers. As Ramona, Lopez is in charge of making sure this scheme — wherein a bunch of former strippers swindle money away from rich men — makes it off the ground and keeps them out of trouble so they can keep pocketing thousands of dollars every night. It’s a far-fetched story and almost sounds too good to be true, and that’s where fact and fiction collide. Ramona Vega is actually based on a real person. If you can believe it, Hustlers is based on a true story. The "real Ramona" however, might beg to differ.
In 2015, New York Magazine's The Cut published “The Hustlers at Scores” which tells the story of a group of women who devised a con to take visitors to their strip club for all they’ve got. The story went viral (and rightfully so), and now four years later we’ve got Hustlers which loosely tells the same story — of a woman (Constance Wu's Destiny) trying to provide for herself and her child. In order to do so, she helps hatch this long-con, and while she follows the bookkeeping and notetaking, someone else is calling all the shots. Lopez's Ramona would be that shot-caller.
Samantha Barbash (below), or Samantha Foxx, very clearly serves as the inspiration for Lopez’s character.
In The Cut’s story, Wu’s real life inspiration, Roselyn “Rosie” Keo, claimed that Barbash was a seasoned stripper, and wasn’t necessarily aging out of being one, but clearly saw the value of not stripping but instead organizing a way to lure men into the clubs where she worked and then max out their credit cards. As Rosie alleged, “everyone wanted to work with Samantha, because she had a lot of clients and she knew how to work well.” Keo claimed Barbash referred to what she did as “marketing,” since it was bringing the clubs money, too. Oh, also to note: The operation reportedly included drugging the men they brought in with MDMA and Ketamine to get them to loosen up and forget their experiences, so when they would eventually look at their ridiculously large credit card bills they couldn’t remember exactly what had happened.
Per Keo's narrative, Barbash had a soft spot for girls who had fallen on hard times, and as their con expanded, Keo claimed Barbash took on a lot of unreliable cohorts, including sex workers, who didn’t always show up on time, and some didn't show up at all. Supposedly it was one of these younger girls who helped run a (failed) sting to try and capture Keo and Barbash in the act, and even though it wasn’t successful, it eventually led to both women being arrested.
And while the film follows this story, as reported by The Cut, pretty closely, the real Barbash isn't happy. Like at all.
In 2017, Barbash pleaded guilty to conspiracy, assault, and grand larceny in exchange for five years’ probation. While that part is pretty easy to confirm, Barbash claims that The Cut’s story is full of lies, and thus, the movie is full of lies.
Back in April 2019, Barbash told the New York Post that Lopez's portrayal of her was wrong, claiming that she was never a stripper and that the movie's take on her was "defamation."
She also said Lopez never contacted her regarding the movie, and remarked to the Post at the time: "It’s my story she’s making money off of ... If she wants to play me, then she should have gotten the real story.”
Of course, Barbash will get a chance to tell her side of the story; she has since written a memoir containing what she claims actually what happened. It's called Underscore, and it will be out later this month.
In the meantime, she’s pondering suing the production company, STX, over the story and her portrayal in Hustlers. Regarding potential legal action, her lawyer told Page Six,
“The movie is based on court records from the trial and a New York magazine interview of one of the co-defendants in the case against dancers at Scores. Although Samantha wasn’t a dancer at that time, we believe the movie and Jennifer Lopez’s character is based on her. We plan on seeing the movie before deciding on what steps to take.”
So, despite all the fanfare, it would appear that not everyone is singing the critically acclaimed film's praises.