“Pamela, A Love Story”: In with the documentary, out with the biopic

By Meg Richards, Staff Writer, Opinion

Pamela Anderson, a media personality who took the ‘90s by storm, is finally telling her own story. Last year, Hulu released a biopic series called “Pam and Tommy,” recounting the tumultuous relationship of Anderson and her then husband, Mötley Crüe drummer, Tommy Lee. The series, starring Lily James as Anderson and Sebastian Stan as Lee, is a dramatized version of their worldwide sex-tape leak. 

The robbery and subsequent distribution of the ex-couple’s tape came at the birth of the digital age in 1995, forever immortalizing this footage without the consent of Anderson and Lee. As if this was not dehumanizing enough, Hulu further exploited this traumatic event for the same reason: profit. After expressing discontent with the making of the series, Anderson is taking back the reins of her experience with her new documentary “Pamela, a Love Story.” 

The nature of biopics—series or movies—is exploitative. When a victim’s story is sensationalized for money, entertainment, or clout, it oversimplifies their inherently complex lives for views and ratings. Often, this exploitation targets women or people of color, like in the recent Marilyn Monroe biopic, “Blonde,” or the viral series “Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” 

Real-life personal trauma should not be used to garner clicks at the expense of  marginalized groups. For Anderson, “Pam and Tommy” is a nonconsensual retelling of a private event—in which her sexual agency was stripped from her—and the resulting abuse she endured both from the public and her husband. 

“Pamela, a Love Story” follows Anderson as she returns to the home where she grew up: Ladysmith in British Columbia, Canada. In the retelling, she starts with her abusive childhood and recounts how she came to find fame. Her story is one of luck and chance—a small town girl discovered by Playboy when they happened upon a beer ad she did for a friend. They flew her out to L.A., dyed her hair blonde, and the rest is history. 

Anderson’s journal entries take us through her whirlwind, fairytale romances post-stardom. Her diaries tell us about the dozens of career-defining moves she’s made over the years. It’s clear that this documentary is not the first time she’s tried to reclaim her power. 

As a survivor of sexual assault and abuse, she found it empowering to pose nude for Playboy at age 22. However, once she started gaining too much attention for her modeling, she decided to explore alternative endeavors. This is what kick-started her acting career and landed her a role on ‘90’s cult-classic tv show “Baywatch.” 

But a stolen sex tape tarnished her reputation much more than Lee’s—given the inherent sexism that permeates women’s careers in media. After the tape was leaked, Anderson took the new attention she’d garnered and directed it toward something more important to her—animal advocacy work in a partnership with PETA

In “Pamela, A Love Story,” Anderson laments her tarnished reputation after the leak and her evolution into a national punchline, often the subject of many late night talk show jokes. Every move she’s made since then—working with PETA, starring in “Chicago” on Broadway, and now reclaiming her own narrative—has been in an attempt to tell the public that she is in charge of her life, not them. 

Her career has consisted of one attempt after another to take charge of her own image. “Pamela, A Love Story” is so much more empowering than a biographical, secondhand account of her life because of how transparent she is. When she decided she was unhappy with her public image, she made the call to change it in whatever way she could. 

The obsession that Hollywood has with the marriage of Lee and Anderson comes as no surprise. Their marriage began with a wedding in Cancún, Mexico in 1995, merely four days after the two met, and ended with Lee’s charges of spousal and child abuse in 1998. It was a tumultuous relationship from start to end—what do Hollywood audiences crave more than a messy love story? 

While Anderson made it clear in the documentary that she still has a lot of love and care for Lee, she made it just as clear that the decision to end the marriage was 100% hers and hers alone, due to her and her children’s safety being threatened. This marriage isn’t something to romanticize, glorify, or glamorize. It’s not something to idolize with matching couples costumes. Most of all, it is not something to commodify for the point of entertainment. These actions are not rooted in a genuine respect for Anderson’s experiences or point of view. They’re exploitative by virtue of a victim’s story being used for personal gain. 

If the goal is to honor a person’s life, legacy, and experiences, then a documentary would be a much better medium than a biopic—which is not only exploitative, but also often reductive, misinformed, and exaggerated. At that point, nothing about the subject’s life is being honored—the project is no longer about them. 

Biopics are self-serving by nature; they are done for the directors, writers, and actors spearheading these projects, especially when done without the input or consent of the subject. There is nothing just or fair about replaying a woman’s trauma for the sake of money—all it does is serve as a reminder that her agency is not her own, but instead puppeteered by men and the media, those who victimized her initially.

By writing a book, starring in a handful of feature stories, and creating a documentary to tell her story “the Pamela way,” she is making her experiences accessible to the public in a way more authentic than any biopic ever could. The same can be said for any documentary where a public figure is driving their own narrative firsthand and telling the world their stories. That’s something that can’t be replicated, especially when the recreation is done without the oversight, knowledge, or consent of the subject . No one can tell the story of Pamela Anderson the way Pamela Anderson can, and no one should.