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Pamela Anderson Getty 1.jpg

‘Pamela: A Love Story’ Allows Pamela Anderson a Chance to Tell Her Story

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | February 3, 2023 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Film | February 3, 2023 |

Pamela Anderson Getty 1.jpg

The reassessment of Pamela Anderson is something that feels a long time coming. For several years now, we’ve seen cultural redemption arcs for some of the most derided and maligned women in the public eye of the past few decades. We sheepishly confronted myriad ways we contributed to the breakdown of Britney Spears. Monica Lewinsky thoroughly regained control of the narrative of her life from years of political scorn and mockery. Podcasts detailed how wrong we were about Princess Diana, Karen Carpenter, Lindsay Lohan, and many others. It’s now almost its own cliché, to stop the sexist force in its track and combat it with a more empathetic recontextualizing of events. That’s how Jessica Chastain won her Oscar for giving Tammy Faye a sympathetic glance.

This is obviously a welcome trend, belated though it may be. It’s easy to forget just how steeped in the rot of institutionalized misogyny we all are, left to breathe in its smog with no other options. Call it a post-#MeToo benefit or just a long overdue course correction, but on the most basic level, how can we not crave it? Alas, it’s not as though we’re short of women who deserve the chance to tell their own stories and fight back against disgraceful cruelty for profit and pleasure. Yet I can’t help but wonder how this harried move to undo a binary understanding of these women has only reinforced another extreme.

Pamela: A Love Story, now available to watch on Netflix, is the long-awaited response from actress and activist Pamela Anderson to over 30 years of a very familiar narrative (and a Hulu dramatization of her life she has resolutely condemned.) The Canadian came to Hollywood to pose for Playboy and quickly found her way to TV with a supporting role on Home Improvement. But it was when she joined the cast of the inexplicably popular Baywatch that she became a household name. Anderson may have been one of the most iconic and defining sex symbols of the ’90s, all bleach blonde hair and pencil eyebrows, with a ceaseless focus on her breasts. For many years, every aspect of her life and body were seen as fair game for the press, from open speculation on her STD status to that sex tape with ex-husband Tommy Lee.

In Pamela: A Love Story, Anderson is gentle, self-aware, and often extremely likable, all of which reminds us of why she got so famous in the first place. Interviewed from her gorgeous home in British Columbia, she details not only what it was like to be in the epicenter of that cyclone of fame but the tragic life that preceded it. There’s a fascinating naivety to Pamela past and present, a guilelessness in her youth that was extremely appealing but also easy to manipulate. That warmth and eagerness to please was quickly misunderstood to be stupidity, and the documentary is chock full of examples of talk-show hosts and comedians mocking her as a ‘dumb blonde’ (is a film like this complete without a montage of badly aged talk-show monologues?)

To be a sex symbol, or indeed a woman of any kind in the public eye, is to be the property of the world. In one scene, Anderson talks about how posing for Playboy gave her the chance to take control of her sexuality after being abused as a child on more than one occasion. That brief burst of freedom soon turned toxic. The entitlement that everyone felt to view her sex tape, which was leaked without her consent and continues to cause her deep trauma, turned her into a joke rather than a victim. Anderson is keen to reject the label of ‘victim’, more interested in regaining control over an image that never felt like hers to begin with. That means emphasizing her charity work and life as a mother, with her two adult sons appearing in the documentary and being very protective of her. A lot of what she talks about isn’t necessarily new. Actually, Anderson has long been open about her private life and hot takes of the day. It’s more an issue of timing, and Anderson knows it. Maybe now, people will listen to what she has to say, even if it’s old news. Perhaps now people will take her seriously, although it’s revealing that she had to be a woman in her 50s before people let that happen.

The intentions with Pamela: A Love Story are evident. We’ve seen films like this many times before, from The Eyes of Tammy Faye, both feature and documentary, to the Clinton impeachment season of American Crime Story. This is a platform for a subject who has seldom gone uninterrupted or side-eyed. Anderson has decades’ worth of footage of her life, documenting every detail of her career, motherhood, and various marriages. It cannot help but underline how much she’s known for one tape, something the director, Ryan White, even notes. Everyone here is on her side and who wouldn’t want that, especially after so many years of being a punching bag-slash-sex toy? So, don’t expect a ton of depth or any shades of grey to Anderson herself, even though there’s so much to be mined from her tale. She’s even pretty nice about all of the utter sh*ts she’s married over the years. And there are many of them.

The willing shallowness of Pamela: A Love Story is akin to the many biopics we’ve had over the decades that have eagerly smudged away key historical details to seek the approval of their subjects turned producers (Anderson’s son, Brandon Thomas Lee, is a producer here.) So, we don’t get a lot of revelations, although her upcoming memoir promises more on that front. We also don’t get much depth in terms of her activism, which involves much work with the notorious animal rights charity PETA and even advocating for Julian Assange. What draws her to such causes, and to the organizations that campaign for them with questionable tactics? We don’t get much from her on that. Anderson’s suspect opinions on #MeToo don’t get airtime, even though it would have offered some much-needed depth to her narrative and the ways that misogyny works. Frankly, I would love to see a multi-episode saga that contextualizes Anderson’s life through the culture that she became a part of. Where’s her Heidi World or You Must Remember This season? But that would involve going deeper than anyone here is willing to go.

Anderson has a new autobiography coming out soon. She received strong reviews for her Broadway debut as Roxie in Chicago. Soon, she’ll star in a reality series about renovating her house. Things seem good for her now. I’m glad. I just wish there was more to Pamela: A Love Story than its limiting neatness. Her contradictions are part of her story, so why sideline them? Are audiences only willing to reconsider their mistreatment of women in the past if they’re presently devoid of problems?

Pamela: A Love Story is available to watch now on Netflix.