Hustlers is being released in cinemas today, and it’s about time we addressed the hypocrisy around the movie being promoted on Instagram.
Before we get started, I want to catch you up on what’s been going on with Instagram.
The Story So Far
In July 2019, the pole dance community started to notice that the hashtags we commonly used were being censored.
As a lot of pole dancers rely on using these hashtags for inspiration during practice, for connecting with other pole dancers, and promoting their businesses, thousands of us were, quite rightfully, pissed.
However, this was just one symptom of a larger problem – the FOSTA/SESTA bills, and the continued censorship of sex workers on social media platforms.
This is a pretty huge topic to cover, so if you want to read more about it, please check out my previous post, So You’re Shadowbanned on Instagram.
As a community, we banded together to protest against Instagram’s censorship.
We shared the accounts of censored sex workers and sex worker rights activists. We started online protests to gain the attention of Instagram, Facebook, and the media. We flooded hashtags like #malefitness with thousands of images and videos of our pole and aerial practice.
And, something we never dreamed would happen, happened – Instagram apologised to the pole dance community.
I wrote a follow-up post, entitled No, The Shadowban Isn’t Over, to address this apology and take a deeper look at what it meant for our community.
Spoiler alert – nothing has actually changed.
The pole dance and sex worker communities are still being censored on Instagram.
Despite the ‘apology’ stating that the hashtags being banned previously was a mistake, it’s becoming clear that this is actually how the algorithm is intended to function.
Even today, our hashtags are still being censored, accounts are being shadowbanned, and our sex worker friends are still being hidden behind Instagram’s algorithms.
So, on one hand, Instagram is still policing female and femme bodies, just as it always has done, and most likely, as it will always continue to do.
Yet, on the other, Instagram is making (presumably) hundreds of thousands of dollars from the promotion of Hustlers.
If you’ve taken some time away from the pole and aerial side of social media, you might have missed the near-constant reposting, gushing, and general giddiness about Hustlers.
Hustlers tells the story of the veteran stripper Ramona, who takes Destiny, a struggling single mother, under her wing. However, when the financial crisis hits, Ramona concocts a plan to turn the tables on the wolves of Wall Street.
Based on this article which details an interview with Rosie, one of the original women of this true story, Hustlers looks like it could be a fantastic movie – if done right.
I just want to make it clear now that, as of the time of publication, I have not seen Hustlers.
On one hand, I’m excited to see a female director tell this story, and I’m glad that the cast and crew include current and ex-strippers. I’m also thrilled that the cast took pole dance lessons in order to portray a more realistic version of strippers than what we’re used to seeing on the big screen.
But on the other hand, there’s been allegations from a current club worker that her club was closed to the public while Hustlers was being filmed and she received no compensation for the loss of work – while the club owner was paid for use of the club.
Plus, while there were sex workers consulting on set, the original women of the story were not consulted, compensated, or were even made aware that this story was being turned into a movie.
It’s certainly a larger topic that concerns where the responsibility lies for certain decisions made during the filming of Hustlers, but it’s worth bearing in mind.
Hustlers on Instagram
Hustlers has focused heavily on social media for promotion of the film.
Running on a message of female empowerment and sisterhood, the trailer itself has been shared what feels like thousands of times by pole dancers alone. Every time I check my Instagram, there’s usually a sponsored Hustlers post somewhere on my feed.
Even on my Instagram stories, there’s Hustlers GIFs.
I mean, it’s really not surprising. Instagram has probably keyed on that I (surprise, surprise) like pole dancing and female empowerment. I’m also a 23 year old woman. If I was marketing Hustlers, this is one of the demographics I’d target too.
My point is less that Hustlers is using Instagram as part of their marketing strategy – but the hypocrisy of Instagram promoting Hustlers.
One Hand Taketh, The Other Taketh More
While I can’t find any financial information on how much the studio behind Hustlers spent on their social media production, I did some quick research into movie marketing budgets.
According to Investopedia, movies on average have a budget of $35 million for marketing. There’s dozens of ways movies market themselves, from interviews, to red carpet events, to – you guessed it – promoted posts on social media.
It’s difficult to get a straight answer as to how these marketing budgets are divided, but it’s not hard to see that in today’s society, studios may focus more on social media promotion, particularly if their target audience are avid social media users.
Like the target audience for Hustlers.
It’s perhaps safe, then, to assume that the Facebook Company – which owns both Instagram and Facebook – is due to rake in a good portion of the marketing budget behind Hustlers.
Let’s not forget that Instagram made $9bn from ad revenue alone in 2018.
It’s extremely hard to find any statistics on the actual cost of running ads on Instagram and Facebook – and what big campaigns, like the one behind Hustlers, actually costs.
Instagram and Facebook both run ads based on the highest bidder. That is, when a company wants to run an ad campaign, they don’t automatically hand over their money and the campaign starts running – their ad enters an internal auction where they have to bid for the attention of their target audience.
Hustlers, and ad campaigns with hundreds of thousands – or millions – behind them are the obvious choice for the platform against ads from smaller companies without the same budget.
I’m telling you this for context – Instagram isn’t a passive participant.
The platform has actively chosen to promote Hustlers this heavily because the movie was the highest bidder for our attention.
All Hail Cardi B, Queen of Instagram Strippers
This leads me to the main point of this blog post – the hypocrisy of Hustlers on Instagram.
As we’re all too aware, Instagram has a huge problem with the bodies of women and trans people.
Not only that, but Instagram are actively hiding any content its algorithm deems as sexual – which, of course, targets women going about their daily lives, because we are obviously being sexual when we post photos where our leg hair is visible, we’re menstruating or – god forbid – we’re not white, cisgender, or have a smaller body. (/s)
Plus, if you’re not a celebrity or some other kind of public figure, there’s no way you’ll get away with that tasteful semi-nude shot.
Below is a screenshot of one of the more recent posts on Hustlers‘ Instagram page:
Compare that with a recent post from @katsandcrows, a sex workers rights activist, Suicide Girl, and sex worker:
@katsandcrows is pretty much constantly shadowbanned. Many other sex workers have had their accounts deactivated.
Celebrity bodies are not held to the same standard. Clearly, if you’re a public figure, you’re well known, and you’re not currently a sex worker, your body is fine on the ‘gram.
Instagram is happily taking money from a movie about strippers – while censoring actual strippers.
For as long as Hustlers is being promoted on Instagram, the Facebook company will continue to make hundreds of thousands off the backs of sex workers.
Sex workers, who rely on social media to stay safe, promote themselves, and be part of a community that looks out for each other, are having their accounts deactivated without warning. Or, their accounts are so close to being deactivated they have to create backup accounts.
Professional pole dancers, however they make their money, are having their small businesses hidden on the Instagram feed. Their bodies are being sexualised by yet another platform, run by men, who want to tell women, trans folks, and anyone who sits outside of the gender binary what to do with their bodies. Their livelihoods are being threatened.
Those of us who dance as a hobby are having our source of inspiration, connection, and community taken away from us. If we have aspirations of going professional, we no longer have the reach to take that step. Whether we choose to dance in sexy styles or do pole for fitness, our bodies can only be viewed as something for men to consume.
All while Instagram is reaping in the benefits of Hustlers.
What Do Our Communities Have To Say?
I recently chatted with Lori Lu on Instagram about the promotion of Hustlers. Here’s what she had to say:
Currently, #teamliftthepoleban has a petition that’s reached over 18,000 signatures on change.org asking Instagram to stop unfairly censoring pole dancers on their platform. Additionally, we are organizing and enlisting marginalized allies to call out Instagram’s unfair censorship tactics. Hashtags for #curvygirls and #fitnessgirls are currently banned … while #curvyguys and #fitnessguys are not. Regardless of how you feel about pole dancing, one should take notice of shadow banning, because they’re targeting other groups too. The hashtag #samelove is banned, but not the #notadamandsteve hashtag.
Recently, I wrote an article about this issue for Pole Con International and I appeared on a Fox 2 news story about shadowbanning of the pole community. Instagram never got back to them.
It’s been getting way worse on the platform over the past few days. The hashtags for our pole fitness challenges are banned including #comboupgrade and #changeupyourcombos. The word pole is not even included.@lori_lu_poledancer
Pole fitness studios attempting to promote their businesses are being denied by Instagram for being “overly suggestive” and their content is being labeled too “sexually provocative” for promotion.
Meanwhile, Instagram is actively promoting the upcoming J-Lo film Hustlers.
Honestly, I am looking forward to watching the film with my pole pals, but I am shocked by Instagram’s shadow banning double standard regarding sponsorship and celebrities. Trace Lysette who is featured in the film is posting nude photos on Instagram that are currently collecting thousands of likes.
Personally, I find nothing objectionable with this artistic content, but this is permitted by Instagram at the exact same time they are refusing to promote pole fitness studios on their platform because they’ve labeled the footage of fully clothed women working out “sexually provocative or overly suggestive”. Consistency counts to me!@lori_lu_poledancer
Recently, we decided to use the IG approved hashtag #hustlersmovie for all our pole posts, and it looks like we may have temporarily shadow banned it. For a little while, searches of the #hustlersmovie hashtag listed less than 100 posts.
In addition, it’s worth checking out the discussion on this Instagram post from United Strippers of the World:
What Can We Do?
We can take a stand.
Since Instagram issued their ‘apology’, some of us still continued the fight away from the spotlight. Our Facebook groups filled with progress pictures, videos, and memes again, with the odd person asking why their Instagram posts weren’t showing up.
The fight still continues today.
Post your favourite pole picture or video to Instagram TODAY.
On Friday 13th September, post your favourite pole picture or video with the hashtags #IPoleBecause and #HustlersMovie.
Caption your content with a story about what pole means to you. Talk about why you started pole, share a funny pole-related story, or write a heartfelt love letter to your pole journey.
Let’s flood the #HustlersMovie hashtag with stories from pole dancers, strippers, and sex workers from around the globe. Remind Instagram that we’re here, we exist, and there’s nothing they can do that makes our existence any less beautiful.
If you can, tag a pole friend (or three) and ask them to get involved too!
Stand Up For Sex Workers
If you do talk on social media about the shadowbanning of the pole community, don’t forget sex workers.
Without strippers, we wouldn’t have pole dance as we know and love it today. Strippers really are the foundation of our sport, and ignoring their role in the evolution of pole dance does them a great disservice.
Check out Blogger on Pole’s awesome list of activists to follow on social media, and share their posts if you can. A lot of these accounts will most likely be facing the same shadowbanning we are, if not at risk of their accounts being deactivated entirely.
And, the next time if someone asks if you’re a stripper when you say you pole dance, smile sweetly, and say “Why, would that be a problem for you?”
Share Your Favourite Pole Businesses
Whether it’s your studio, your favourite pole wear brand, or your favourite custom Pleasers artist, share one of their posts.
Pole businesses like Hoodlum Fang have talked about the effect of the shadowban, which has included the banning of their brand hashtags. Not only does this mean current customers are less likely to see what they’re up to, it really limits their exposure to their target audience.
The vast majority of pole dance businesses are small one or two person operations who don’t have the luxury of a huge audience to sustain them. I can tell you from experience that social media is a huge part of any small business’ marketing strategy because it doesn’t cost a penny – unless you’re using scheduling software – to promote through it.
Share the love by showcasing your favourite products, studios, instructors – anything! If it’s made by, done by, or taught by a small pole business, give them a shout out.
Keep Targeting Non-Pole Hashtags
Obviously do this with some caution, as non-pole hashtags are already being censored in some cases, as Lori found with #curvygirls vs #curvyboys.
Please don’t target hashtags that belong to marginalised groups. Remember, the point of this is to punch up.
So, we’re targeting popular hashtags like:
If you want to target some additional hashtags, why not go for:
Whatever hashtags you choose, choose the ones that represent who you are as a person.
Please join me today in protesting the continuing censorship of sex workers and pole dancers on Instagram, using #IPoleBecause and #HustlersMovie.
Head over to my Instagram where I’ll be sharing pictures and videos of my pole journey and updating my story with news throughout the day.
Plus, you can join the discussion on Facebook!
Keep up the good fight, pole friends!