'Hustlers' And 'Birds Of Prey': Extraordinary Films Get Made When Women Call The Shots
There’s a little movie called 'Hustlers' – you may have heard of it.
It’s based on the true story of several strippers who worked together to fleece Wall Street bankers following the GFC. It just made $US100 million in its first three weekends in America. Which. Is. A. Huge. Deal. For a movie that’s not a sequel, a prequel, a remake, a reboot, or based within a pre-existing action or superhero franchise, it’s colossal.
That’s before we even dig into the fact Hustlers is about women, written by women, shot by women, produced by women and directed by a woman. Everything the audience sees on screen is viewed through the female lens. And for a film about strippers? That’s incredibly important.
“I feel like we’ve seen scenes in strip clubs in every single movie and TV show ever, but so few are from the strippers perspective,” says Hustlers writer/director Lorene Scafaria. “So I wanted to start there.”
The film was originally supposed to be directed by Martin Scorsese and one can only imagine how different that vision may have been, let alone the on set energy. One of the big concerns for not just Scafaria, but star and producer Jennifer Lopez, was the comfort of the actresses as they put themselves in vulnerable positions every day, sometimes in front of 300 hollering male extras.
Enter Jacqueline Frances, aka Jacq The Stripper, who was hired as a “comfort consultant and stripper consultant” to work with not just with the cast including Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart and Keke Palmer, but with Scafaria as well.
“She was with me every day,” says the director, who wanted to show “that the women are in control” not just practically, but in her visual storytelling.
“There are certainly moments a dancer can feel more vulnerable than others and there are certainly bad nights and bad people, just like any other job. But I felt the responsibility of telling the story of these dancers who are trying to make ends meet and trying to survive.”
To quote Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben: “with great power comes great responsibility”, and that’s clearly something Margot Robbie felt immensely when she became a global superstar playing Harley Quinn. Her big screen debut as the character was in 2016’s Suicide Squad and the difference between the version we saw back then compared to the one we saw in last week’s Birds Of Prey: The Emancipation Of One Fantabulous Harley Quinn trailer is stark.
Gone are the sequined hotpants, disappeared is the ‘Daddy’s Little Monster’ midriff baring t-shirt: in their place we have Robbie emancipated from her abusive relationship with the Joker and teaming up with a gang of bad-ass broads pulled straight from the pages of DC Comics. In just two minutes we see more women in Birds Of Prey than the entirety of Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker, another Warner Brothers property. Yet it’s about more than just the presence we’re seeing in front of the camera.
As one of Hollywood’s biggest breakouts of the past decade, Robbie has leveraged her capital in show business to found Lucky Chap Entertainment: a female-fronted production company that has already given us the Oscar-winning I, Tonya and upcoming TV series Dollface for Hulu.
Co-producing Birds Of Prey, they tapped Chinese-American filmmaker Cathy Yan on the shoulder to direct a script by Christina Hodson.
What could have very easily been an entirely Harley Quinn focused project has become the cinematic launchpad for arguably the first -- and greatest -- female crime-fighting team.
Three out of the five Birds Of Prey are being played by women of colour, including Oscar-nominee Rosie Perez as detective Renee Montoya. The mere presence of a 55-year-old Latina woman fronting a comic book blockbuster is a miraculous thing in and of itself. And it took a female production existing in a largely male-dominated space to make it happen.
Will Birds Of Prey have the same impact as, say, something like Hustlers, whose diverse and inclusive cast and crew has seen not just commercial success, but critical acclaim as well? Only time will tell, but Scafaria knows the practicalities of gender dynamics inside and outside of show business are a fight.
“I think it’s a power struggle in a lot of ways, that men and women are in,” says the 41 year old. “At least in a cis, heteronormative culture. I tend to look at the value system of men and women and feel like men are valued for their success, their money, and their power and women are valued for their beauty, their bodies, their sex, and their motherhood. Those are the top boxes for us to tick off … but there’s something about the trickle-down of that value system (which) feels really dangerous.
"Toxic masculinity, I think that seeps into every problem that we’re facing right now. I don’t know if we can solve those problems if we don’t look at those roots and see that we’re ticking off these top boxes for ourselves. What does that mean for us as men and women, how does that relate to gun control, and abortion rights, and all these things?”
Hustlers hits Australian cinemas Thursday, October 10. Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) is slated for release February 6, 2020.