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Pamela: A Love Story is a Refreshingly Respectful Take on the Celebrity Documentary

Following the controversial success of Hulu's Pam & Tommy (2022), Netflix's new documentary centres Pamela Anderson in its intimate and consensual portrayal of her exceptional life.

By Mateo Cruz, Third Year, Film and English

In the opening scenes of Pamela: A Love Story, we see a middle-aged Pamela Anderson with her iconic bleached blonde hair but without makeup. She is funny and confidently self-deprecating, but one can still trace vulnerability in her soft voice.

This new Netflix documentary takes us through Anderson’s life, with her at the centre; often, she is laughing, and sometimes she is crying, but always, she is filled with love for her extraordinary life and the people in it.

For those that only know the highly sexualised image of a blonde bombshell, this documentary will unveil a nuanced and courageous personality.

Courtesy of Netflix on IMDB

Firstly we are told about her childhood. She grew up in a “tiny little shack” in Ladysmith, a small town on the east part of Vancouver Island. Her parent’s relationship was volatile, oscillating between passionate lovemaking and tempestuous arguments. During these early years, Anderson was also repeatedly sexually assaulted by her babysitter, leaving her deeply traumatised.

The documentary, with Anderson’s explicit consent, isn’t afraid to delve into her darker moments.

The next part of the documentary, however, shifts dramatically in tone. One day, watching a football game with her friends, a cameraman zoomed in on her wearing a blue Labatt’s beer t-shirt so that all of the stadium saw her on the big screen.

Sure enough, Labatt’s caught wind of this and hired her as a model, nicknaming her the ‘blue zone girl’. These advertisements circulated, and before she knew it, Playboy was on the phone asking her to be on the cover of their October ’89 issue.

Pamela Anderson in Baywatch (1989-2001) / Photo by James Aylott, Courtesy of IMDB

Soon enough, she was scouted to play C.J. Parker in Baywatch (1989-2001), impressing producers with her energy and personality. The success of Baywatch, where she turned “slow motion running into an artform”, soon turned her into an international celebrity.

Already, however, the media saw her as something of a joke. In interviews she would suffer through endless questions about her boobs, leading to her joking that they had the career and she was merely 'tagging along'. The mockery was only amplified by her having a string of impossibly handsome short-term boyfriends.

It was only when she met Motley Crüe drummer Tommy Lee that she found someone she could see herself with long-term. The pair met in a nightclub, where Lee spiked her drink and proposed to her that night. “All the rest was a big happy blur”, laughs Anderson; four days later, they were married.

Photo by Keith Butler, Courtesy of IMDB

One day, they noticed that their safe had been stolen. Alongside more traditionally valuable items, the safe contained their now infamous sex tape. It was pirated and, with the emergence of the internet, made available for all the world to see.

This was crushing for Anderson, who remains angry at the invasion of her privacy. The couple filed a case against those who had profited from the stolen tape, but the lawyers' attitude was that, with being in Playboy, she had little right to privacy. The court depositions startled her, and she wondered, “Why do these grown men hate me so much?”

This terrible scrutiny was recently revived with Pam & Tommy (2022), a Hulu miniseries which attempted to portray the story of the sex tape. It was a nightmare come true for Anderson; neither she nor her ex-husband were contacted for their permission for the series to be made.

Lily James as Pamela Anderson in Pam & Tommy (2022) / Photo by Hulu, Courtesy of IMDB

Pamela: A Love Story (2023) also explores the fact that Anderson’s glamourised marriage to Lee was not all roses. He was incredibly jealous, visiting sets to ensure her fidelity and being frustrated by Pamela’s attention being focused on their children rather than on him. She eventually took him to court, accusing him of domestic abuse; Lee was sentenced to six months in jail, and their marriage was over.

Anderson says that she has never “been able to get over not being able to make it work” with the father of her children. It is notable that Lee does not provide his side of the story, making this section feel a little biased.

Photo by Pamela Anderson, Courtesy of Netflix on IMDB

In between acting roles and a hectic love life, the documentary highlights how Anderson has managed to use the media to promote causes she is passionate about.

For many years she has campaigned for animal rights, even managing to convince Vladimir Putin to stop the transportation of endangered whale meat through Russian waters.

While the documentary is a little long and does occasionally feel slow, it does successfully deliver an intricate and personal picture of Anderson. By the end of it, we feel like we know her and are charmed by her down-to-earth humour. It also serves as a warning, displaying the devastating power of the media to destroy lives without consequence.

Featured image: by Jason Bell, courtesy of Netflix

Has this documentary brought Pamela Anderson's story to life for you?