Before Lorene Scafaria was even hired to direct Hustlers, she had one person in mind for it: Cardi B. For Scafaria, the Bronx-born rapper, who’s been candid about how stripping allowed her to pay for her education, was a perfect fit for this story of a group of strippers who con Wall Street bros and CEOs out of their ill-earned cash in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. By the time The Meddler director got the plum gig of shepherding this female-fronted ensemble film, she had already been trying to contact the “Bodak Yellow” star.
“I was chasing her early on. At first on Instagram and then texting numbers I’d gotten,” Scafaria tells Remezcla. “Cardi, of course, knows this world. But also she’s just such an incredible personality and just an incredible performer.”
But it wasn’t until another very famous Bronx-born Latina got involved that Cardi B finally got around to reading the Hustlers script. When Jennifer Lopez signed on to play Ramona (arguably the JLo of strippers) and decided to help produce the film, she called Cardi herself and got the script in her hands. Much to Scafaria’s relief, the former Love & Hip Hop: New York star found the script authentic enough.
Nevertheless, the two collaborated on the script, creating the role of Diamond for the rapper. “I think she knew she had to lend her voice to it,” Scafaria adds. “So that was really exciting.”
Brash, funny and sexy in equal measure – she’s the one always getting the girls cackling with laughter in their shared dressing room – Diamond is a heightened version of Cardi. And to further add some authenticity to the feel of the film, the Grammy winner contacted the seamstress who used to make her stripping outfits and included some of them in the film. Indeed, her looks (which the singer has shown off on Instagram) are some of the most eye-catching, showing just how in control Diamond always feels.
The movie, which plays like a mix between The Big Short and Magic Mike with a decidedly female gaze throughout, has no shortage of equally eye-grabbing, show-stopping moments. JLo’s entrance as Ramona alone will have even her most devout fans in awe of how electric she is once she steps onto the stage. But for many, there will be no more rewarding moment on-screen than seeing Ramona and Diamond teaming up to teach Constance Wu’s Destiny how to excel at stripping – aka, how best to deploy your assets to get wealthy men to whip out their Amex cards. To see the “Dinero” duo reunited is a treat, not least because they play off one another with ease, milking the line “Drain the clock, not the cock” (while showing exactly what they mean) for all its comedic potential.
It’s scenes like those, equally funny and sexy, letting these women take control of their own narratives and bodies, that make Hustlers be all the more enthralling. Scafaria knows much of that she owes to her actresses, who brought complexity to even the smallest of roles. That’s definitely true of Cardi B who, in a film whose cast also includes Keke Palmer, Julia Stiles, Lili Reinhart and Lizzo, is able to stand out whether she’s wearing a pair of pasties or a pair of sweatpants.
Hustlers opens in theaters September 13, 2019