‘Hustlers’ Real-Life Stripper Sues STX for $40 Million Over Jennifer Lopez’s Portrayal

Lawyers claim STX and filmmakers acted with malice and gross or otherwise reckless disregard for the truth

"Hustlers" / STX

The real-life stripper who helped inspire the film “Hustlers” starring Jennifer Lopez is suing the film studio STX, claiming filmmakers defamed her and failed to uphold her civil rights.

Samantha Barbash, one of the subjects of a viral 2015 New York Magazine piece “The Hustlers at Scores” that served as the basis for the character Lopez portrays in “Hustlers,” made good on the threat of a lawsuit against the Hollywood studio and the filmmakers, which she’s intended to file since the film debuted last September.

The film, for which Lopez garnered a Golden Globes nomination, tells the story of former strippers at a club in New York City who drugged their clients and took their credit cards.

Barbash received five years of probation after pleading guilty to conspiracy, assault and grand larceny. Back in September, Barbash’s lawyers sent a letter to STX claiming producers never paid Barbash for her life story and threatening to sue the movie studio if a deal was not reached.

“Defendants attempted to obtain a consent and waiver from Ms. Barbash for the production of the film and their ultimate portrayal of the plaintiff therein. However, Ms. Barbash refused to give her consent or waive any of her privacy rights,” the lawsuit filed on Tuesday reads. “Nonetheless with blatant disregard for their lack of authority and/or consent, defendants proceeded to exploit Ms. Barbash’s likeness and character for the film and the promotion thereof.”

Written and directed by Lorene Scafaria, “Hustlers” helped STX reach a new milestone: two $100 million-plus grossing films domestically in a single calendar year. “Hustlers,” which had a reported budget of $20 million, grossed more than $157 million at the worldwide box office.

A spokesman for STX said that while the studio has yet to see the filed complaint, “we will continue to defend our right to tell factually based stories based on the public record.”

Back in 2017 a similar issue arose when “Gone With the Wind” star Olivia de Havilland sued FX Networks for the portrayal of her in Ryan Murphy’s limited series “Feud.”

The lawsuit was thrown out by an appellate court, which cited the series’ creators First Amendment rights to portray de Havilland. She later petitioned the California Supreme Court review decision, but the court denied her request.

In addition to a permanent injunction that would bar STX from reproducing or distributing “Hustlers,” as well as a number of other injunctions, Barbash is seeking $20 million against STX for compensatory damages and another $20 million for exemplary damages.

Barbash’s lawyers claim in the suit that STX and the filmmakers acted with malice and gross or otherwise reckless disregard for the truth so much so that the film has permanently damaged Barbash’s  personal and professional reputation.

“As a direct and intended consequence of the defendants’ promotion and marketing of the film, Ms. Barbash’s name became heavily entrenched in the film’s media coverage long before the movie ever premiered,” the suit reads. “Defendants did not take caution to protect the rights of Ms. Barbash by creating a fictionalized character, or by creating a composite of characters to render J. Lo’s character a new fictitious one. Rather they engaged in a systemic effort to make it well known that J. Lo was playing Ms. Barbash.”

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report