Hustlers is another one of those stories that are so outrageous, you’d think they were made up. But writer/director Lorene Scafaria’s recent box office smash is not only extremely real, it hews pretty closely to the details given in journalist Jessica Pressler’s article “The Hustlers At Scores”. Even with that in mind, there are quite a few details that were skewed and/or omitted to cause some pretty big differences from reality to present themselves.
Some are just good old Hollywood story changes, while others are pretty integral to the way Hustlers’ story works out. The reality of the situation is well represented in the film, while diverging into some more Hollywood friendly tangents that paint a different picture. It’s those fabrications and alterations that we’ll be going into today, as we dive into the history behind the hustle.
The Names Were Changed To Protect The True Hustlers
One of the most obvious changes that Hustlers made to its version of the story is that it gave all of its lead characters different names. So while Constance Wu is playing Dorothy/Destiny and Jennifer Lopez has the role of Ramona, those names are screen friendly, and in a way provide distance between Scafaria’s film and the actual events that took place.
In reality, Dorothy is based off of Roselyn Keo, one of the main subjects of the Pressler interview. Another subject, and Keo’s partner in crime, Samantha Barbash, was the basis for Lopez’s Ramona Vega character; and Barbash certainly won’t let anyone involved in Hustlers forget it. Apparently, she was so displeased with the result, she threatened Jennifer Lopez and STX Entertainment with lawsuits over what she feels is defamation of character.
The Real Life Inspiration For Hustler’s Dorothy Started As A Waitress
Another interesting point of order is Roselyn Keo’s origin story, which isn’t really given in Hustlers. In the beginning of the film, we see Constance Wu’s Dorothy already stripping at Moves, the stand-in for Scores, the real life strip club Keo would eventually strip at. But before she worked at that particular club, or even started as a stripper, Roselyn Keo was a waitress.
Jessica Pressler talks about this in “The Hustlers At Scores”, as Keo states that she was recruited into stripping by a manager from the strip club Lace. After a huge tip, and a quick, but effective pitch, Roselyn was convinced to quit waiting tables and start stripping.
Dorothy Had A Brother That Isn’t Mentioned In The Film
Roselyn Keo’s family history is pretty well represented in the movie, as the story of her being abandoned by her parents was accurately recalled in Hustlers. Much like Dorothy, Keo was raised by her grandparents, after being left behind by her parents. That said, Roselyn’s story differs yet again in its reality, as she wasn’t an only child.
There aren’t many details about her brother available in the various sources we’ve consulted, with the focus obviously being centered on Roselyn’s crimes. But instead of the fiction that pegs Hustler’s Dorothy as an only child orphaned by her parents, there was an actual second child there with her all the long.
Dorothy’s Grandmother Died Way Before The Events Of Hustlers
Hustlers includes its fair share of downbeat moments in its version of events. But perhaps the saddest is the the death of Dorothy’s grandmother, whom she’s been supporting through her stripping in the entirety of the film. With her parents’ departure intact in this narrative, all Dorothy had in her world was her grandmother; a fact that was already partially debunked in reality with the presence of her brother.
Roselyn Keo’s grandmother actually passed when she was 16, which pre-dates the history of Dorothy’s career in Hustlers. To be precise, the film starts in 2007, and Keo’s grandmother passed around the year 2000. So rather than stripping to support the woman who raised her, Roselyn’s motivations were driven by more self-inspired reasons.
Roselyn And Samantha Actually Drafted Prostitutes, Not Other Strippers, To Help Them Out
Throughout the trailers for Lorene Scafaria’s Hustlers, there’s a core group of women shown to be in on the scams that Constance Wu’s Dorothy and Jennifer Lopez’s Ramona are running. Joining Dorothy and Ramona in their quest were numerous other strippers, with Mercedes (Keke Palmer) and Annabelle (Lili Reinhart) being two of the featured co-conspirators in the grand con.
In terms of how Roselyn Keo and Samantha Barbash ran their actual con, they weren’t as exclusive in their company. The truth happens to be that rather than using fellow strippers to help carry the load, like in Hustlers’ version of events, Keo and Barbash actually drafted prostitutes to help them play their cons. The unreliable nature of the girls who were brought in as time went on is factually accurate, with a differing pool of employment being used by Roselyn and Jennifer’s real scheme.
Dorothy And Ramona’s Relationship Is Friendlier Than Roselyn And Jennifer’s Actual Story
A scene that most folks will probably be talking about in the same breath as the mention Jennifer Lopez’s Oscar chances is the final moment that we see transpire between her and Constance Wu’s Dorothy. As the latter is revealed to have taken a plea deal, despite the former’s best wishes, the women embrace and emotionally say goodbye. It’s a moment that feels right at home in a movie, but the truth was as far from this version of events as you could get.
In fact, a Vulture article written by Hunter Harris, entitled “From Stripper Pole to Tent Pole”, states that the two strippers weren’t exactly the best of friends. Rather, their relationship seems to have been that of perfect co-conspirators at work, as opposed to the mother/daughter bond that was present in the film. This fact is only further corroborated by Roselyn Keo, who, in an interview for The Oprah Magazine, actually said she wanted Dorothy to kick Ramona’s ass in that last goodbye. Similar to the depiction of their friendship, Hustlers’ version of Keo wildly differs from reality as well.
The Real Dorothy Wasn’t As Easily Redeemable As Her Film Counterpart
Dorothy in Hustlers is a criminal entrepreneur, for sure; but by the end of the film, she’s seen as someone who’s alone and regretting her decisions. There’s even a hopeful note at the end of the film, where we see that Ramona still wants to be her friend, and keeps a photo of Dorothy from when she was a child. That’s version of events travels down a different fork in the road of reality, as Roselyn Keo and Samantha Barbash don’t even talk anymore.
And on top of that, as we saw above, Roselyn would have preferred that Hustlers end with Dorothy telling Ramona off for one last time, rather than have a tearful farewell. While she’s a stay at home mom on the up and up, Keo is still very much a hustler. So much so that she’s been known to say that she and Jordon Belfort, the Wolf of Wall Street himself, should go on motivational speaking tours. If that’s not a match made in heaven, we don’t know what is.
Stories vary depending on who tells them, and a fictional movie like Hustlers doesn’t have to get it all right. Looking into the changes made to the true story, like the ones we’ve gone over above, it’s usually to serve the sort of story the creator behind its inception wants to set out. While the end result is an enjoyable narrative, it’s always good to keep in mind the line between fact and fiction, and how finely it’s drawn when enjoying a film such as this.
To that effect, we’d like to leave you with some source material to enjoy, should you want to dig deeper into real-life Dorothy. Roselyn Keo. If you’re interested in reading Jessica Pressler’s “The Hustlers At Scores”, you can find it online courtesy of The Cut. There’s even a follow up interview with Keo that Vulture ran in honor of Hustlers’ opening. Should you be interested in seeing more of the differences between the reality and the fantasy that is Hustlers, there are pieces from Slate and History vs. Hollywood that further detail the road up to the film’s production, and just how accurate it really was.
Naturally, Hustlers is in theaters now, and available for a first or fifth viewing. But if you’re looking for something new at the movies, you should head to our 2019 release schedule to see what else is ready to lighten your wallet at the box office.
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Mike Reyes is the Senior Movie Contributor at CinemaBlend, though that title’s more of a guideline really. Passionate about entertainment since grade school, the movies have always held a special place in his life, which explains his current occupation. Mike graduated from Drew University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science, but swore off of running for public office a long time ago. Mike's expertise ranges from James Bond to everything Alita, making for a brilliantly eclectic resume. He fights for the user.