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Pamela Anderson cuts through 'preconceived notions' in 'Pamela, A Love Story' on Netflix

“She unravels a lot of preconceived notions about sexuality and about sexual commodification. It's about consent," director Ryan White says

Pamela Anderson's bombshell, highly-anticipated documentary Pamela, a love story has landed on Netflix, allowing us to see and hear from the famed Canadian Playboy model and Baywatch actor like we never have before, in her hometown of Ladysmith, B.C.

“What I love about Pamela is she's so nuanced and complicated that I think even for myself, she makes you really challenge preconceived notions,” the film's director, Ryan White, told Yahoo Canada. “Nothing fits perfectly into a box.”

Pamela Anderson in
Pamela Anderson in "Pamela, a love story" (Netflix)

'Once Pamela commits to something she's all in'

While Anderson may seem like the perfect subject for a documentary, oftentimes referenced for her "wild" life, the filmmaker initially wasn't interested in pursuing her story.

"When the idea was actually pitched to me, and it was brought to me by our producers, Josh Braun and Julia Nottingham, I actually said no at the beginning, I'm very wary of making celebrity documentaries,” White revealed. “I say no to a lot of them, often the more famous the person the less I want to make a documentary about them, because it just often comes with a lot of strings.”

“Pamela was so famous and larger than life, in my eyes, that I just assumed she would come with all those strings. But they convinced me to at least meet her. … Pamela and I just talked for about three hours and the longer the conversation went on, every minute she just chipped away at all of these preconceived notions I had about her.”

The filmmaker was actually "surprised" by how open Anderson was, right from the beginning of the process, calling her "an incredible storyteller."

“The very first moment we started rolling with Pamela, she shuffled down her hill, from her farmhouse to her beach house, where we filmed on that white couch most of the documentary, and she sat on the couch and she's like, ‘you can ask me anything,’” White recalled.

“She's an incredibly open and honest person, just by her very nature, which I think is why she's been burned a lot in her life. But once Pamela commits to something she's all in. She's very guarded in the sense she doesn't have a lot of people in her inner orbit. … Once she's in, she's all in.”

Pamela Anderson in
Pamela Anderson in "Pamela, a love story" (Netflix)

Have we normalized having access to celebrities without their consent?

There's such a sweetness, sensitivity and largely fun energy that Anderson gives off in Pamela, a love story, but as the narrative progresses, working chronologically, she's very honest about the traumatic moments in her life.

Near the end of the film Anderson says, "You are just a thing owned by the world, like you belong to the world," in reference to the star finding out that the Hulu series Pam & Tommy is being released. The focus of the show is Anderson's traumatic stolen sex tape scandal from the 1990s with then-husband Tommy Lee, something she said she's tried to "block out" of her life "in order to survive."

This brings up questions around how we, as consumers of magazines, entertainment, images and celebrity culture more broadly, have normalized having access to stars, even without their consent.

“I know a lot of people that worked for Playboy didn't have the best experiences, or didn't have the best experiences with Hugh Hefner, but … I never felt like ... we could discount how Pamela saw her own experience," White said. "She sees that as sexually empowering."

"The sex tapes, she sees as having robbed her of all of that power that she had taken back.”

White said it was "awful" to watch Anderson have to her stolen, personal tapes become such a public discussion, once again, but it continues to raise questions about consent.

The director added that Anderson's line in the film about being "owned by the world" is one of his favourites in Pamela, a love story, highlighting that there are very few people who can relate to that sentiment.

“That idea of like, 'oh my god people are profiting off of this again and all I want is that to go away, and people are making money and entertainment off of that again,' I don't think many people can relate to that,” White said.

“I think the interesting part about Pamela is that she unravels a lot of preconceived notions about sexuality and about sexual commodification. It's about consent.”

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 30: (L-R) Brandon Thomas Lee, Pamela Anderson, and Dylan Jagger Lee attend the Premiere of Netflix's
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 30: (L-R) Brandon Thomas Lee, Pamela Anderson, and Dylan Jagger Lee attend the Premiere of Netflix's "Pamela, a love story" at TUDUM Theater on January 30, 2023 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)

'I don't think she would have made the movie without Brandon'

While slightly unconventional, Anderson's 26-year-old son, Brandon Thomas Lee, serves as a producer on Pamela, a love story. According to the director, Lee's involvement was critical to making this film.

“I don't think she would have made the movie without Brandon,” White said. “I think it was his persuasion and his involvement that made her feel comfortable enough.”

“Often that would be a concern of mine, I don't want a family member producing the film. How much control is this person going to want? But I realized very early, this is not your conventional family and they are very open, and there is nothing to hide.”

White also highlighted that while he tends to get "numb" to the stories he's telling as a filmmaker, after spending so much time with them, Pamela, a love story was particularly moving for Anderson's family.

“Sometimes I would look over at Brandon and he would just have tears in his eyes,” White said. “Pamela just watched the film for the first time and she watched it with [her youngest son Dylan Jagger Lee] in a little theatre at Netflix, the report back I heard was it was incredibly emotional for both of them, because these are real people.”

“I think Pamela, in many ways, because she was such a caricature, I didn't think of her as fully human until I met her. But when you're with them you're like, this is just a family. This is just a mother and sons, and their mom just happens to live a much crazier life than most our moms.”