I went to see the Wolf of Wall Street without context, with two friends, totally unprepared for the movie’s unapologetic, intentional excesses. I felt myself sinking deeper and deeper into my seat at the theatre as the movie played on, realizing I’d never watched a character more on screen that I wanted to punch in the face than Jordan Belfort.
So I noted and appreciated Christina McDowell‘s piping hot, fury-laden open letter to the movie’s makers in the LA Weekly, where she called the film out on its pandering to a Wall Street con man, its buying in to the misogynistic and coke-sniffing American dream. Whether you think Martin Scorsese revealed something repulsive in Belfort through his behavior, or glamorized his lifestyle, there’s no denying that McDowell’s voice appeared as another side of the story. A side of the story demanding to be heard.
And now McDowell’s full story is here. In After Perfect, she recounts her childhood as Christina Prousalis (she has since changed her name). She grew up in the wealthy suburb of McLean, Virginia, blocks from the Kennedy estate, in a mansion where Corinthian columns and ivy frame marble floors and chandeliers. As a girl she played with the children of other Washington elites, tended to by a socialite mother and a businessman father who flew his own Porsche Mooney plane around for fun.
The curtain was pulled back on this illusion of wealth when the FBI stormed the McLean estate, guns at the ready, and arrested her father, Tom Prousalis, for fraud.
In his wake, Tom Prousalis left a trail of lies, confusion, and debt. Her mother discovered credit cards in Christina’s name, which Prousalis apparently applied for and used to try to save the family’s lavish lifestyle in the face of financial issues. Their home and belongings were then seized by the FBI and sold at auction. Christina’s mother was faced with entering the workforce and managing wrecked finances, and Christina and her sisters were unable to get clear answers from their father, who kept promising riches and big payouts from his prison cell.
This is the story of a unique type of victim–McDowell was raised with a level of privilege that shielded her from learning basic skills, then she was suddenly thrown into life headfirst. Everything she learned to value as a child, like designer labels and social status, couldn’t help her find a job or balance her checkbook. She finds herself oddly straddling two worlds, homeless in a BMW, hungry for food but clutching onto her designer handbags. She ends up working in nightclubs, drowning her sorrows in alcohol, seeking attention from men who will never replace the father who broke her heart.
This was a quick read for me, and one I told a lot of people about because the story is just so crazy. The writing is simple and honest, and McDowell’s struggles (financial, emotional) read like a roller coaster of desperation riddled with appearances from an ever-emerging Tom Prousalis, who pops up like the energizer bunny of broken promises.
After Perfect on Amazon.com/Powell’s.com/Indiebound.org
- My con artist father worked for ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ (nypost.com)
- After Perfect — Christina McDowell Rediscovers Wealth and Worth (huffingtonpost.com)
- My Dad Worked for ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’ and Left Me $100,000 in Debt (parade.com)