Jennifer Lopez's 'Hustlers' Character Sparks Defamation Lawsuit

Jennifer Lopez stars in HUSTLERS - Publicity_h 2019
Courtesy of STXfilms

Jennifer Lopez's turn as a street-savvy stripper in Hustlers has already earned her a Golden Globe nomination and she's expected to get an Oscar nod, too — but the woman her character is based on doesn't share in that assessment. In fact, the real-life Ramona is so unhappy about her onscreen portrayal that she's suing for defamation. 

Samantha Barbash on Tuesday sued STX, Gloria Sanchez Productions and Lopez's Nuyorican Productions. Hustlers is based on a 2015 New York Magazine article by Jessica Pressler titled "The Hustlers at Scores," which was based on Barbash's experience working in gentlemen's clubs.

The film tells the story of Ramona and her colleagues charming Wall Street types and then drugging them and racking up thousands on their credit cards at the clubs in exchange for a cut of the money. In 2017, she pleaded guilty to conspiracy, assault and grand larceny and was sentenced to five years' probation.

Barbash says the filmmakers exploited her likeness without her permission and defamed her. She argues Hustlers included enough factually accurate details to identify Ramona as Barbash, but the portrayal was "grossly irresponsible" in fictionalizing parts of the film. She specifically takes issue with scenes "portraying her character as using and manufacturing illegal substances in her home where she lived with her child."

Barbash says the depiction is "libelous per se" because it involves the commission of a crime and would be offensive to any common person therefore injures her reputation personally and in her business as a beauty salon owner. 

Barbash is seeking at least $40 million in damages and is asking the court for an injunction banning distribution of the film and ordering defendants to give her all copies of the material.

An STX spokesman on Wednesday sent The Hollywood Reporter a statement in response to the suit: "While we have not yet seen the complaint, we will continue to defend our right to tell factually based stories based on the public record."

Barbash is far from the first plaintiff to sue over a project based on true events —  The Wolf of Wall StreetStraight Outta Compton, Feud: Bette and Joan and The Hurt Locker all sparked closely watched lawsuits that eventually ended in wins for the creators.