'Hustlers' Producers Beat Libel Suit by Woman Who Inspired Jennifer Lopez Character

Jennifer Lopez stars in HUSTLERS - Publicity_h 2019
Courtesy of STXfilms

A federal judge has stripped down a lawsuit from the real-life adult entertainer who inspired Jennifer Lopez's street-savvy character in Hustlers. On Tuesday, Samantha Barbash's complaint against STX, Gloria Sanchez Productions and Lopez's Nuyorican Productions was rejected.

Barbash, who was a host at Score’s Gentleman’s Club and Hustlers Club and pled guilty in 2015 to conspiracy, assault and grand larceny, alleged that Hustlers exploited her likeness without her permission and defamed her.

U.S. District Court Judge Denise Cote doesn't have much difficulty dismissing the privacy cause of action with the determination that the exploitation, according to Barbash's own complaint, didn't include her “name, portrait, picture, or voice" in the marketing of the movie.

As for defamation, it's a bit more nuanced as the judge does find sufficient alleged falsity in the film's portrayal of drug use. While Barbash pled guilty to participating in a conspiracy in which she and her confederates provided their victims with illegal drugs in order to gain control of and use their credit cards, Barbash alleges she didn't, as the movie suggests, develop the recipe for the drugs, manufacture them, nor use them.

However, after Cote determines she's a limited-purpose public figure given that she pled guilty to crimes in open court and then gave interviews about her deeds (including to the New York Magazine journalist whose story served as the basis for the movie), the judge concludes Barbash hasn't succeeded in pleading actual malice on the part of the defendants.

"Barbash pled guilty to drugging individuals without their consent," writes the judge. "The Pressler Article reports that Barbash concocted the recipe for the mixture of illegal drugs that rendered the scheme’s victims vulnerable to the fraud. Nor does the FAC plead that the Defendants acted with malice in asserting that Barbash herself used drugs. That assertion is the least offensive of all of the statements of which Barbash complains and is naturally connected to the scheme to which Barbash pleaded guilty and which she discussed with journalists."

Here's the full opinion.