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In the face of yet another media circus tied to her and Tommy Lee’s stolen honeymoon tape, Pamela Anderson remained silent amid the announcement of Hulu’s Pam & Tommy, the early 2022 limited series that recounted one of the most painful parts of her life.
And she would remain silent through its release and awards run, even as co-showrunner D.V. DeVincentis revealed the production’s attempts to reach out at “every stage.” Instead, Anderson would now reemerge in the weeks leading up to the release of her memoir Love, Pamela, revealing through various press tour engagements that she had not only never watched the series, but hadn’t even opened the letter Pam & Tommy actress Lily James wrote to her.
Now, with director Ryan White’s new Netflix documentary, Pamela, a Love Story, the actress, author and activist is fully addressing a moment in her life that has continued to fuel broader trust issues for her, long after the initial media circus ended, on her terms. “Since the stolen tape, I’ve always questioned everything, everyone,” Anderson says in the doc. “I didn’t feel like I had a lot of respect.”
With a Jan. 31 release that coincides with her memoir hitting bookstands, White’s film sees Anderson responding to the Pam & Tommy creatives’ decision to dramatize a part of her life she wants to move on from. “Why would I want to go through that again?” she asks at one point early in the doc, describing the release and media treatment of the sex tape’s unauthorized distribution as “super humiliating.” It was a moment that solidified for her the “caricature” the public saw of her and “was the deterioration of whatever image I had.”
“To this day, do not know who stole the tape,” she said. “I don’t want to figure it out. There’s no use figuring out anything about it. The damage is done.”
For Anderson, producing the Pam & Tommy series — which DeVincentis previously told The Hollywood Reporter was “a love letter to her and her strength” — should have required her permission to be made. “It really gives me nightmares. I didn’t sleep last night at all,” she explains in Pamela, a Love Story after hearing news of the show. “I have no desire to watch it. Not going to watch it. Never watched the tape. I’m not going to watch this. Who knows how they’re going to portray it.”
The Baywatch star and author is also shown reaching out to her ex-husband Lee, who ultimately did speak to Sebastian Stan, the actor who portrayed him in Pam & Tommy. “I texted Tommy the other day and said, ‘How do you feel about everything?'” she recalled. “He goes, ‘Pamela, just don’t let it hurt you as much as it did the first time.'”
While Anderson opted not to view the series, Brandon, her eldest son and a producer on the Netflix doc, did as she was preparing for her run as Roxy in Broadway’s Chicago. In a phone call captured by White at her home on Vancouver Island, Brandon expresses anger over characters played by Seth Rogen and Nick Offerman, who were the men involved in the theft and unauthorized distribution of Anderson and Lee’s tape.
“I watched the first three episodes,” Brandon says to his mother. “Here’s the thing, right? It’s like, you know the guy that stole the tape? They try to give him reasons for stealing this shit — because Dad was an asshole and didn’t pay.”
After hearing this, she initially expresses concern that her younger son, Dylan, saw the show before a “shaking” Anderson begins eating and pacing her kitchen in an emotionally vulnerable moment. Throughout the reaction, which also sees her apologizing that her family has to deal with the tape’s fallout, Anderson is visibly anxious.
“I blocked that out of my life. I had to in order to survive, really. It was a survival mechanism,” she said. “Now that it’s all coming up again, I feel sick from my whole stomach — from the middle of my chest all the way down to my stomach. [My stomach] feels right now like it’s just been punched.”
Anderson goes on to say that hearing from Brandon about the series’ approach to the men who stole her honeymoon tape made her feel the same as when the tape was stolen. “Basically, you’re just a thing owned by the world,” she continued. “I just feel like it’s just … ignore them. Let it go.”
Beyond showing Anderson’s ongoing trauma related to having her private life made public without her consent, Pamela, a Love Story also addresses two other issues related to the tape: her historical refusal to cash in on the stolen property and the allegations that she released the tape to become famous.
“People actually thought that we put it out there for some ridiculous reason. Because that became kind of a trend afterward. Celebrities were using a sex tape to become famous. So it kind of left us in that category,” she told White. “Still, to this day, people said that we made money off it, which was never the case. I never received a dime from that.”
After describing how she and Lee attempted to retrieve the stolen tape, Anderson admits that at the time, there was no precedent for what they were experiencing, complicating their efforts to get that part of their private romantic life back.
“We said, ‘Fuck you, give us our tapes back.’ This was not supposed to be for anybody else,” she recounted. “We just really had no clue. We thought that if we got the tape back, it would stop. We had no way to navigate it because there was no one else that was going through anything like this. And so we didn’t really have the playbook on how to get it all back or make it go away.”
Anderson remains adamant that she wouldn’t “monetize the stolen tape” and has no regrets about taking that stance, adding that someone “could give me hundreds of millions — a billion dollars — I would never take it. Never.”
As for whether she should have tried to monetize it, her sons take opposing stances on the issue in the doc, amid White highlighting the personal debt Anderson faced throughout her career. It’s a reality that Brandon says may have been resolved by her taking payment, like the $5 million Bob Guccione and Penthouse offered when the videotape was first leaked.
“I wish she would have made the money. She would have made millions of dollars if she just would have signed a piece of paper. Instead, she sat back with nothing and watched her career fizzle into thin air,” Brandon says. “She was in debt most of her life.”
However, Dylan’s opinion more closely resembles his mother’s and celebrates her refusal to give in to financial temptation. “I think it would have been a different story if she did cash in on the tape,” he said. “That thing, guaranteed, made people millions of dollars and she was like, ‘No.’ She went 100 percent and cared about her family being OK and me being OK. Never cared about money.”
While the topic of the stolen tape and Hulu’s rehashing remains difficult for Anderson, the actress does ultimately address why she’s talking about it now. “I don’t feel very good and I want to articulate it the best I can because it’s hard,” she told White. “Sometimes you wonder why you’re talking about it all again. But you know, it’s part of what we’re doing and … it’s good to get it out at least once or twice — in your own words. In my own words.”
Speaking to THR ahead of the film’s release, White said that he began work on the doc three years ago, before the Hulu series was even a “glimmer” and the conversation about Anderson would reemerge. Despite that renewed attention on the treatment of the actress and model, he ultimately didn’t want to make the entire film about the Hulu series’ and how it affected Anderson. Still, it was hard to ignore in the story of her life and its latest act. So the team “tried a lot” and experimented in the edit room.
“We wanted to do the minimal amount of time. We only have a certain amount of real estate to tell the Pamela Anderson life story. We don’t want to spend time showing the Hulu show. But it was such an integral part of the third act of my film and everything that she was going through,” White says. “I thought I was making a film about a woman who’d grown up on an island, gone through all this crazy shit, returned to that island, married a local and is living out her final years there. Suddenly, the third act of my film was this hurricane.”
The storm White describes involved Anderson going through a divorce, taking on her role in Chicago and the Hulu series — all of which he says they “had to include because it was a huge part of her emotional core at the time.”
“All of this stirred something up in her,” White added. “She wasn’t saying anything publicly. She was hiding out, in fact. She was hiding from the media circus around Pam & Tommy. But she was willing, in these private rooms, to say, ‘Enough is enough. Fuck this. I’m taking my story back.’ And I think the doc and the memoir are finally doing that.”
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