The woman who inspired Jennifer Lopez’s character in Hustlers is suing the film makers for $40m (£30m).
In the lawsuit, Barbash is alleging Lopez’s Nuyorican Productions and the film studio STX used her likeness and story without her permission and defamed her in the movie. She also claims that she was approached repeatedly for her consent but did not give it.
Inspired by true events, and adapted from the 2015 viral New York Magazine story The Hustlers at Scores, the film tells the story of a group of New York strippers – led by Lopez’s Ramona – who were accused of drugging and robbing a number of Wall Street bankers in the months after the 2008 stock market crash.
Barbash was sentenced to five years’ probation for conspiracy, assault and grand larceny after the scheme was uncovered and the scam was reported to the authorities.
In addition to a permanent injunction that would bar the film studio 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.
The court document alleges that the makers of the film used Barbash’s likeness and drew a direct connection to her without her consent “for advertising purposes, and for purposes of trade and commercial benefits” and that this breached her privacy rights under New York state law.
“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.”
In addition, 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.
In particular, Barbash alleges that a scene showing Ramona “using and manufacturing illegal substances in her home where she lived with her child” is untrue, defamatory and “grossly irresponsible” as a result.
In response, STX has said it would “defend our right to tell factually based stories based on the public record”.
As reported previously in zoom-in this claim is of a similar kind to that brought by living legend Olivia de Havilland when she sued FX Networks for the portrayal of her in Ryan Murphy’s series “Feud.”
In that case, De Havilland claimed that her name and likeness were used to promote the series without her permission and that it damaged her reputation by portraying her as a gossip and a hypocrite.
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 to review the decision, but the court denied her request.