‘It’s nice when women are in charge’: Jennifer Lopez and the ‘Hustlers’ cast on empowering women in film at TIFF

By Zach Harper

The cast of Hustlers descended on Toronto and took the city totally by storm on Sept. 7 when the movie had its world premiere at TIFF 2019.

Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, director Lorene Scafaria and more cast members stunned the city with their incredible red carpet outfits, with Jennifer bringing fiancé Alex Rodriguez along for the ride. TIFF is known for its glamorous premieres, but this was the kind that left the festival forever changed and took it to another level.

PHOTOS: See all the incredible looks from the Hustlers world premiere at TIFF 2019

The cast of Hustlers is almost entirely women, and that was the case for the crew, too. The film was shot in just 29 days and features some of the biggest names in Hollywood, along with some rising stars.

Before they dazzled Toronto on the red carpet, Jennifer, Constance, Keke, Lili and Lorene were part of a Twitter Canada #SheInspiresMe panel at which they discussed the current state of women in film and entertainment and the women in their lives who have made huge differences for them. Their mothers were key people who came up for many of them.

Who inspired and empowered them?

J.Lo said her mom was one of her first big professional supports, and helped instill in her from an early age that “jobs didn’t have a gender,” she could do whatever she wanted – and could even be president if she tried.

J.Lo was positively glowing at the panel! Photo: © Twitter Canada

“That was something that really stayed with me,” she said. “It really made me dream so much bigger, I think, than the people and the kids that I grew up with around me, that I had a mom who was telling me that, because of her own suppression felt like, ‘How do I make you see that you can do anything?’ Really, anything.

“I think that’s why I’ve been able to do a lot of the things I do, and I also don’t keep myself in a box. I think people say, ‘You were a dancer, you can’t be an actress.’ ‘You’re an actress, you can’t be a singer.’ ‘You’re a singer, you shouldn’t produce your [own records.]’ And even beyond that, branding and marketing yourself and becoming your own worldwide brand. I felt like that was something that was all within the realm of possibility because of her.”

Lili also called out her mother, who was sitting proudly in the audience and waved to support her daughter. The Riverdale star said her mother had supported her from a very young age by bringing her to auditions.

(L-R): Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart and Lorene Scafaria all spoke about the importance of other women in the entertainment industry helping them get where they are today. Photo: © Twitter Canada

“She was never a stage mom, not even in the slightest, but she know that I was really passionate about acting,” the 22-year-old said. “She would drive me eight hours from Ohio to New York for an audition that I had no shot at, but she believed in me.”

Keke conferred with J.Lo, saying her mother also told her not to let people limit her as an entertainer. She also pointed to the support she received from Queen Latifah on Barbershop 2: Back in Business when she was just 11 years old as invaluable.

“Ever since then, she always acknowledged me,” Keke said. “It taught me how much it means for me to do that to someone when I’m older… She taught me a lot by her behaviour towards me, she taught me how to be to others.”

Constance spoke about how she didn’t feel she had to try to fit in on set while working with all women. Photo: © Twitter Canada

Constance said while she grew up in a family of women and has three sisters, her biggest supports for following her dreams to move into entertainment came from outside the family.

“Functionally, my family was just amazing,” she said, “[but] sometimes I had to look elsewhere for artistic support. Somebody who understood the things I was passionate about. And so, for me, it was actually other artists and the things that they said about why they did what they did and how they do it, [that] kept me from feeling alone in my passion. And so that’s why it’s important for me today to do the same for other people.”

Changing a “boys club”

Looking on for supports in the industry and on set has been important for women and girls in entertainment and film because they are still under-represented in the business and face erasure in media.

The panel was joined by Dr. Stacy Smith, Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, who is an expert on portrayals of women, and of race and ethnicity in media.

Stacy (second left) made a set visit while Hustlers was being filmed. Photo: © Twitter Canada

Stacy said of 100 the top films released in 2018, 33 “erased black women altogether,” 54 did the same to Asian women, and 70 featured no Latinas. The results were even worse for LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities, she said, and pointed out only 4 per cent of women directors worked across the top 100 films. She said more women directors are crucial because they “change everything” in the industry.

Lorene said her experience behind the camera on Hustlers was amazing.

“It’s nice when women are in charge, because it leads to hiring, obviously, a lot of women,” she said. “But it also – when you hire men who are willing to work for women, they are different kinds of men.”

J.Lo agreed.

“It’s great to work with all women,” she said. “There’s a shorthand, you feel very comfortable at work. I’ve done, I don’t know how many movies – many, many – and I’ve worked with a lot of men, mostly men directors, mostly men crew, and it is a boys club. It most definitely is. And you are the girl on the set. And when you have all women on a set, it all becomes now more evened out, especially when there’s a woman director because that’s what’s calling the shots, really.”

Hustlers opens Sept. 13.

MORE: Full TIFF 2019 coverage

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