Pamela Anderson as seen in “Pamela, a love story.” Photo courtesy of Netflix

In the opening scene of Netflix’s new documentary, Pamela, a Love Story, the Playboy icon and movie star Pamela Anderson sifts through the storage of her rustic home in Ladysmith, British Columbia. Among chirping birds and rolling waves from the nearby Pacific Ocean, she pops a VR tape into an old Toshiba monitor, a 90s blast from the past. Behind the screen, a Tommy Lee in his thirties says, “I love my Pamela,” while Anderson, now in her fifties, observes, her bare face softened in a nostalgic expression.

The Baywatch icon is known for her 90s bombshell look – volumptuous platinum hair, striking black tight-liner, and pencil-thin brows. In Pamela, a Love Story, however, Anderson has a stripped-down, natural look, shedding her characteristic glamour to reveal her authentic self. And after the decades of exploitation she’s experienced of having her image made public and capitalized on the decision feels intentional. In a plain white t-shirt and undone hair, she giggles while watching home videos of her marriage to Lee, the Mötley Crüe drummer. She takes a breath heavy with emotion as she says, “That was it, that was my time to really be in love.”

For those that don’t know the infamous story, Anderson and Lee married after meeting four days prior, embarking on a tumultuous three-year relationship that embodied the era of love, sex, and rock and roll. While the two were deeply in love, a scandal emerged when a private sex tape was stolen from the couple’s home early in their marriage. And in the early days of the internet, the video became a viral sensation, launching the adult streaming industry as the first leaked celebrity video.

After two kids and a tumultuous legal battle, Anderson and Lee divorced following the latter’s arrest for spousal and child abuse. But for Anderson, the impact of this tragic series of events would be prolonged for years to come. To producers and the public, she was a caricature of the hot blonde, a projection perpetuated by her role as Casey Jean Parker in Baywatch. And because of her appearances in Playboy, audiences felt like they owned her image, an impression so substantial that lawyers used this reasoning against the couple in their deposition.

Anderson’s likeness has inspired countless TikTok filters and Halloween costumes in the last year, part of a resurgence in popularity that can partially be credited to the release of Hulu’s Pam & Tommy last year. The fictional series placed the couple back in the spotlight in a big way, produced by Seth Rogan and garnering reviews in major publications like Rolling Stone.

Despite making a series about one of the most traumatic moments of her life, the team producing Pam & Tommy never received Anderson’s consent to film. In Pamela, a Love Story, which began filming prior to the Hulu series’ release, her reaction is captured in real-time. The series’ existence gives her nightmares, she says, emphasizing that she has no desire to watch it. Later, in a scene where she paces in her kitchen while on the phone with her son, Brandon Thomas Lee, he recounts to her how Pam & Tommy creates sympathy for Rand Gauthier, the carpenter who allegedly stole the tape from their home. Lee is depicted as angry and unreasonable, and the stolen tape is payback for his refusal to pay his workers.

Pamela Anderson narrates “Pamela, a love story.” Photo courtesy of Netflix

Despite generally positive reviews at the time of its release, Pam & Tommy is now being revisited for the ways it failed where Pamela, a Love Story succeeds. In an interview with EW in 2022, Pam & Tommy director Craig Gillespie says his team “absolutely respects the privacy” of Anderson despite making the series without her approval. “I felt, for us, what we’re trying to do is really change the narrative and your perspective of what happened. And this felt like such an opportunity to do that and to be able to look at the story through today’s lens and the outrageousness and just the atrocities that happened.”

Meanwhile, in the same interview, showrunner Rob Siegel says, “It’s just one of those stories that you can’t believe hasn’t already been made into a movie or a TV show… To me, it screams limited series.” Clearly, Anderson disagreed with him, which Pam & Tommy’s creative team must have realized after several attempts to reach out to her during the show’s production with no response. Ultimately, the show has become yet another of the many exploits Anderson has endured, her likeness plastered on a screen against her will. “This feels like when the tape was stolen,” she says. “Basically, you’re just some thing owned by the world.”

To Anderson, Lily James’ portrayal of her in Pam & Tommy looks like one of the many Halloween costumes she’s seen before. That’s why Pamela, a Love Story gives her narrative so much power. The world loves to see women like her as the damsel in distress, and audiences think paparazzi photos and talk show interviews are a beacon of truth. Why should it be up to a creative team at Hulu to change Anderson’s narrative when she is more than capable of doing so herself?

Pamela Anderson as seen in “Pamela, a love story.” Photo courtesy of Netflix

In the final scenes of Pamela, a Love Story, the actress graces the stage as Roxie in Chicago on Broadway. As her son Brandon says, it’s one of the first projects she’s worked on that’s just for herself. As she sings on stage in coiffed hair and a shimmering black lace outfit, it feels symbolic of a new era in her life – one that’s been created on her own terms. “I want to embrace the past, embrace the truth,” she narrates. “My life is not a woe-is-me story.”

Pamela, a Love Story is now streaming on Netflix.

Article by Natasha Cornelissen for The Untitled Magazine

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