STX scored one of the most unexpected hits of 2019 with Hustlers, but they may be paying for it in the form of a major lawsuit. Samantha Barbash, one of the real-life strippers who inspired the story told in the movie, is suing the studio, claiming that they defamed her and damaged her reputation. Barbash is seeking $40 million.
According to several reports, Samantha Barbash intended to file the suit ever since Hustlers hit theaters in September. She's now made good on her intent. Barbash's lawyers sent a letter to STX in September, stating that the studio never paid her for her life story. In the movie, Jennifer Lopez plays Barbash. The story centers on a group of strippers who drugged their high-profile clients and robbed them for thousands of dollars. A portion of the lawsuit reads as follows.
"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. 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."
The movie was based on a 2015 article in New York Magazine titled The Hustlers at Scores. Samantha Barbash pleaded guilty to conspiracy, assault and grand larceny, for which, she received five years of probation. The lawsuit further states the following, explaining why Barbash is seeking such a large sum.
"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. 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."
Hustlers garnered a great deal of critical acclaim, which propelled it to box office success. Directed by Lorene Scafaria, it grossed $157 million worldwide, working from a budget of just $20 million. STX says they have yet to see the filed complaint, but they responded with the following.
"We will continue to defend our right to tell factually based stories based on the public record."
Samantha Barbash suing for $20 million in compensatory damages and $20 million for exemplary damages. Additionally, she is seeking a permanent injunction that would prevent STX from reproducing or distributing Hustlers in the future, which could get in the way of future earnings. A similar lawsuit was filed in 2017 by actress Olivia de Havilland against FX over her portrayal in the series Feud. The suit was thrown out and the California Supreme Court denied Havilland's request to review the decision. That may not bode well for Barbash as this case continues to unfold. This news was previously reported by The Wrap.