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by Phemelo Motseokae
Part of Karl’s Korner, featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication
Warning: Spoilers Below
Hustlers (2019), a film based on a true story, gives audiences a view of the multi-billion dollar strip club industry. Similar to other enterprises under capitalism in the USA, strip clubs treat dancers as independent contractors. Strippers keep a relatively small portion of the money ‘rained’ on them during the show while club owners take a big cut. Despite ongoing and sometimes organised resistance from these workers, this status also denies them access to pension and medical benefits or even protections for injury at the workplace.
In the film, Destiny (Constance Wu), a young single parent joins a strip club, in a desperate attempt to take care of her daughter and grandmother. Ramona (Jennifer Lopez), also a single mother teaches Destiny dance skills
and takes her under her wing. In the dried-up aftermath of the 2008 recession, Destiny tries to return to stripping after a break and finds that Russian immigrants have been hired for much less pay. In her desperation, some man tricks Destiny to get slightly closer and stroke him for $300, only to leave her humiliated with $20.
Ramona comes up with a plan to earn more money and have more say over their lives. A group of these dancers use their sex appeal to drug and scam their sleazy Wall Street clients.
In the film, Ramona and Destiny remind each other of their power, financial wellness and dignity. Ramona says to Destiny, “Motherhood is an illness”. Ramona’s maternal attitude towards women gives her pleasure in robbing these men, turning her oppression into liberating revenge. When they’re finally busted, Destiny betrays Ramona in order to remain with her daughter; Ramona says again “Motherhood is an illness”. We may very well say “capitalism is an illness”. Poverty often traps us in ”moral” dilemmas. Even the idea that opening a business as a way out of poverty leads us to a contradictory binary that capitalism forces us into: sell your labour cheaply and suffer, or exploit others and succeed. In Hustlers strippers are disassociating a piece of themselves for survival, and in trying to embrace their experience and profit from it, they end up harming others.
With the pending global recession, strip clubs, prostitution and transactional sex in other forms can only be expected to rise among poor women. WASP has consistently explained that to win real freedom for all oppressed layers of society, we must link these struggles up with the mass dissatisfaction among the working class. We must struggle in solidarity for a socialist society that will bring a new social order to end this oppression once and for all.