Hustlers, which premieres in theaters on Sept. 13, tells the true story of a group of former strippers who serve their own brand of justice by teaming up to con their Wall Street clients. Jennifer Lopez, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Cardi B, and Lizzo are all in the movie’s impressive ensemble, but our main guide through this cinematic world is Constance Wu’s character, Destiny, who’s based on a real person.
The film is based on an article published in New York Magazine‘s Dec. 28, 2015 issue entitled "The Hustlers at Scores" and written by Jessica Pressler. The main focus of the investigative piece is Roselyn Keo, the daughter of two Cambodian refugees who came to America seeking a better life. She told New York that she and her brother were raised in Rockland County by her elderly grandparents after her parents ran off to Atlantic City. According to Keo, this was what led to her rebellious nature, which is what ultimately led her to scamming clients with her coworkers at a gentleman’s club called Lace.
After dropping out of school at 17, Keo worked as a waitress at the New City Diner by Nanuet, New York to help support her grandparents. New York reports that "one night, one of Lace’s managers dropped a $20 tip on a $20 check" and offered Keo a job, suggesting that she’d make much more dancing at the local club. She took it, and recalled making about $500 to $1,000 a night.
Keo would go on to the big leagues to make real money in Manhattan. She’d drive to the city to dance at Flash Dancers in Times Square and Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club, where she met her then-mentor Samantha Foxx, born Samantha Barbash, who provided the inspiration for Lopez’s character Ramona. Barbash told New York that she introduced Keo to clients who were "mostly Wall Street guys who want to have fun and get drunk and party with girls." According to Keo’s interview with New York, they had one customer from the finance firm Guggenheim Partners who "spent 300 grand in one week." She continued, "He came in three times, 100 grand every time he walked in the room. Everyone made $10,000 every time he came in."
Eventually, Keo would see the negative side of her job. She was taking classes at Berkeley College in New Jersey and her Introduction to Psychology course made her see things more clearly. "You make money, but then you’re depressed, so you end up shopping or going on vacation, and the money depletes, so you go back," she told New York. And so Keo would disappear from the club scene, only to resurface after she had a child who she was raising alone. When she came back, she encountered Barbash once again, who was no longer working the floor and dancing, but had another steady gig going. Her former mentor had found a way to make a lot of money without having to have sex with clients, as other dancers had resorted to. They called it "fishing."
By fall 2013 Barbash and Keo would form a ring, along with Marsi Rosen and Karina Pascucci. They would scope out potential marks at clubs and then party with their selected rich clients at — according to New York Daily News — Scores in Manhattan and Roadhouse NYC in Queens. Spiking their drinks with a mixture of MDMA and ketamine made the men amenable to just about anything, enabling the women to run up thousands of dollars at the clubs on their credit cards, from which they took a commission. Keo streamlined the operation, drawing up schedules and keeping notes on each client, with their personal details and how much had been charged to each of their cards. “I treated it like a real business,” she told New York.
But this didn’t last too long. Per the same Daily News piece, the women were arrested in June 2014, a year after cardiologist Dr. Zyad Younan came to authorities, having mysteriously racked up $135,000 worth of charges on his credit card. Keo was able to get a no-jail plea deal, and was sentenced to a five-year probation, per the New York Post. Now, she’s a published author who’s written her own version of the story. Her book, entitled The Sophisticated Hustler, is currently available for preorder and officially comes out on Sept. 3.
And though she’s reclaiming her narrative with her own book, Keo is also actively endorsing Hustlers on her Instagram account. (And, it seems, she went backstage at one of Lopez’s recent concerts.) It’s unclear how involved she was with the actual production of the film, if at all, but she shared in an Instagram post that she’s working with STX Films on the movie’s publicity tour. "I’m truly happy and excited about the movie that was inspired by my life story," Keo wrote in the caption. "Not many people can say their life story got turned into a movie starring ‘Constance Wu and JLo.’"
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