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Film Review: Hustlers – Capitalism is an illness

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.

Don’t forget to check out our other film review of Joker !

Capitalism is the Real Villain: A Review of Joker

Written by Phemelo Motseokae

Featured in our uManyano lwaBasebenzi publication

Joker was first portrayed as a criminal mastermind: a psychopath with a warped, sadistic humour and audiences grew to know him as the archenemy of Batman. In the 2019 adaption of Joker, he is the alias of a character named Arthur played by Joaquin Phoenix. A child abused by his father and neglected by his narcissistic mother who is oblivious to his suffering, he develops severe mental illness and is rejected and mistreated by society. Arthur resides in a ramshackle apartment, taking care of his disabled mother and barely surviving as a clown in precarious work. He has been to a psychiatric prison and is unstable. Unable to receive essential medical services due to budget cuts, his hopelessness turns into rage and drives him to become a murderer and a working class vigilante. He correctly identifies his class enemy as the “men in suits”. In our society, we’ve seen this anger and bitterness be directed against women, immigrants and queer people.

When the richest man in the city contests for mayor, expressing his disgust for the poor calling them lazy and “clowns”, a riot erupts. Working people rioting in clown masks remind of the Yellow Vests in France or the masked protesters in Hong Kong challenging state power. Arthur joins the crowd chanting slogans and thrusts his fist in the air with anger. He revels in the noise as if he has found a remedy for his fury and loneliness.

A capitalist society sees to it that people believe their suffering is their own making, despite society’s soaring wealth, inequality and the exploitation of workers earning less than a living wage. We see Arthur commit crimes, but he was not born a criminal. He was turned into one by a criminal system.

Joker is human, and the movie exposes the pitfalls of capitalist class society. As it falls short of pointing towards an alternative, it potentially leaves the audience feeling despair. In real life, we can fight for a worker-controlled economy which ensures that science and resources cater for humanity’s needs instead of being commodified. We must struggle for socialism – for permanent change. Together, we can organise to break from this capitalist system that alienates us from our work; from ourselves, and from each other.