The film Hustlers recently cracked the $100 million mark in U.S. theatres – all without the benefit of a preexisting franchise or a single superhero. The movie, based on a real-life incident, follows a group of New York strippers who decide to start robbing some of their wealthy clients.
Jennifer Lopez’s performance in the film, as the strippers’ leader, has garnered plenty of Oscar buzz. While filming one of her scenes for the movie, Lopez would frequently focus her attention on a tall, striking woman standing next to the movie’s director Lorene Scafaria.
“Jacq, how can I make this more authentic?”
The questions would be directed at Jacqueline Frances, BA’09, who served as a consultant on the film, offering Lopez and the other Hustlers cast members her expert take on what life is really like for people who work as strippers. Frances would know because she has been a stripper for almost 10 years, known professionally as Jacq the Stripper.
“Jennifer Lopez would ask me, ‘What would I say in a situation like this? How would I react?’” says Frances. “There was a lot of improv [in the film] with the dancing and the interactions with customers. I would feed her some lines or suggestions, for instance, about how we maneuver around some of the [awful] things men say to you in a strip club, and she went with it and she was great.
“I was helpful with the choreography too, because the way strippers move, the way we dance – there are reasons for everything we do in this business.” At one point in the film, a stripper (played by Cardi B, an ex-stripper herself) explains that when she does a lap dance, the goal is to slow things down and to “keep the clock ticking” in an effort to get clients to spend more money. “That’s pretty much the [language] that I was using to explain the strategy behind that,” says Frances.
Frances (pictured left), who also briefly appears on screen in the film, saw her Hustlers job as having two principal responsibilities – making sure that the actors were comfortable with what they were doing, and that the work of strippers was being represented accurately and respectfully.
“I am really excited with the finished product,” she says. “Lorene made a fun and compassionate movie about that [world].” Frances says there is no shortage of TV shows and films about sex workers that fall short of that mark.
“So much of what we see in the mainstream media is terrible and it isn’t accurate. We are often portrayed in such a pathetic way and we come across as these two-dimensional characters. Our work is pathologized.” What really troubles Frances is how often films depict acts of violence against sex workers. “It’s not just a bad trope in movies, it actually translates into violence against sex workers in real life.”
After graduating from McGill (she majored in Russian and cultural studies), Frances travelled, taking on gigs in advertising and modelling to pay the bills. At some point, she found herself in Australia, flat broke.
She had worked part-time as a bartender during her McGill studies, but bartending in Australia didn’t pay as well. “No one tips there, so that sucks.” Frances decided to give stripping a try. “When you need money, you do things that you normally wouldn’t do. I thought, I was so far away from home [she grew up near Toronto], no one would ever find out.”
Then something unexpected happened. She realized she enjoyed the job.
“I really like the physicality of it,” says Frances. “I like performing. I get to meet new people every day. It’s such a fascinating, curious [world]. It’s never boring. I don’t have boring days. At the end of the night, I have cash in my hand. Waiting two weeks for a pay cheque is exhausting. When I was a bartender in Montreal, I got used to having cash at the end of my shift.”
And the strippers she met didn’t quite match her expectations. “I was familiar with the [stereotype] – that strippers were all sad people. I am impressed by strippers every day. There’s nothing I haven’t learned from them.
“We’re entrepreneurs,” says Frances. “Stripping is a really challenging job. You have to create every opportunity for yourself. You’re running a business. You’re a salesperson. You’re a performer. You need to know how to market yourself. You need to be open to experimentation. You’re always dealing with people and you need to know how to listen actively. You gain all these skills, but transitioning out of stripping is hard because if you mention [the job] on your CV, it goes straight to the bottom of the pile.”
While Frances is quick to advocate on behalf of fellow strippers, she has frequently been critical of the world they operate in and the exploitative practices of some of the establishments in which they do their work. “Clubs won’t hire me anymore,” she recently told Paper Mag. “I’m too mouthy.”
In recent years, Frances has been using her knowledge of stripping to branch out in new directions. She has published books and comics (with her own art) that touch on her experiences (Cosmopolitan described her first book as “charmingly frank”), and she works as stand-up comedian too, with shows coming up in New York and Philadelphia (Nylon says she is “crass and hysterical”). Some of her ribald work is featured on her Instagram page, which has more than 176,000 followers (and helped attract the attention of the Hustlers filmmakers).
“I’ve always been a storyteller,” says Frances. “Your job as an entertainer, whether you are a stripper or a comedian, is to take people on a ride. People like to be taken on a ride.”
Frances has some words of advice for anyone thinking of visiting a strip club.
“People often don’t know how strip clubs work,” she says. “They’re shrouded in mystery. For instance, almost every stripper pays to go to work.” Strippers generally pay a “house fee” to perform in clubs, says Frances. “As soon as she walks through the door [of the strip club], she is probably $100 or $200 in the hole.
“So if you’re at a club and you’re watching a stripper dance and you’re enjoying her company and you’re enjoying the entertainment, pay her. This is her job and she is working hard. The cover charge you paid at the door? None of that is going to her. If you wanted to go to a bar and chat up a pretty lady for free, go to any other bar and don’t go to a strip club. You have a social responsibility to pay the people who are entertaining you. Set a budget [for the night], stick to it and spend it all. Then leave – you’re there to have a good time, not a long time.”
Frances has fond memories of her student days. “My credentials as a Russian lit major don’t really translate into what I’m doing now, but I became a critical thinker at McGill and I use those skills every day. And Montreal is such a sexy city, a very sex-positive city. It influences you to try out some [new things] – and I certainly did.”