Trigger warning: This story contains disturbing details about sexual abuse, rape and assault. If you or your loved ones are struggling, please contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline. Call 1-800-656-HOPE or visit https://www.rainn.org
Pamela Anderson is taking us back to her hometown of Ladysmith, B.C., for the intimate Netflix documentary Pamela, a love story (premiering Jan. 31).
The internationally renowned Canadian Playboy model and actor reflects on her life, most importantly, in her own words, largely through what she has written in personal journals.
“I’m not a victim,” Anderson says in the documentary. “I put myself in crazy situations and I survived them.”
When most people think about Anderson, likely the first thing that comes to mind is Baywatch and star’s whirlwind romance with Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, including the stolen personal tapes that became the first real viral video.
But what led to that moment and how does she look back at the time in her life? Numerous stories have been written about the sex tape scandal, the Hulu series Pam & Tommy recreates the events for entertainment, but in Pamela, a love story, Anderson gives us her honest thoughts on this notable moment in pop culture history.
Traumatic moments in Pamela Anderson's childhood revealed
Before getting to that moment, Pamela, a love story director Ryan White begins the film by looking at Anderson’s upbringing in Canada, on Vancouver Island.
But the film doesn’t take long to get to some shocking details about her life, including a babysitter who molested her as a child for years.
“I tried to kill her,” Anderson says. “I tried to stab her in the heart with a candy cane pen and then I told her I wanted her to die, and she died in a car accident the next day.”
Anderson never told anyone about this abuse, thinking she had somehow caused the babysitter’s death.
When she was a bit older, age 12, Anderson’s friend had a crush on a much older boy. One night, her friend was with her crush, leaving Anderson alone with a 25-year-old man, who raped her.
Once again, she told no one. Particularly because Anderson's mother had been dealing with issues with her husband at the time, but Anderson reveals in the documentary she felt like it was “tattooed on her forehead” that this had happened.
It’s those events from Anderson's childhood that made her feel “shame” about her body.
That may seem odd for some to hear, given that Anderson is one of the most famous Playboy models in history, but like many women, she lived with insecurity about her body and her Playboy work actually made her feel more empowered.
'You’re in Playboy, you have no right to privacy'
There’s a core message in Pamela, a love story that is critical for society to understand, after we’ve failed so miserably at how we engage with celebrities, particularly women. Just because someone, like Anderson, is on Baywatch running on a beach in a bathing suit, and her body is on display modelling for Playboy, doesn’t mean she isn't deserving of privacy or respect.
For example, the documentary shows a series of clips where interviewers are referencing her breasts and asking about her implants.
“I think it’s kind of inappropriate to ask women those kinds of questions,” Anderson says. “There has to be some line that people don’t cross.”
I always hoped something would come along where I would do something, which would be more interesting to people than my body.Actress Pamela Anderson
That concept is even more egregiously misunderstood when it came to her horrifying deposition in the ‘90s related to the release and distribution of her “sex tape” with then-husband Tommy Lee, created with stolen personal video footage from the couple’s home.
“I didn’t know that I was going to be completely humiliated … all these guys in there, they had up naked pictures of me,” Anderson recalls in the documentary. “The lawyers basically said, ‘you’re in Playboy, you have no right to privacy,’ and that was a little bit shocking.”
They would ask about my sex life and I kept on thinking, ‘How am I getting questioned about my sexuality and preferences, and my body parts and where I like to make love, when it’s stolen property?' It made me feel like I was such a horrible woman. I’m just a piece of meat. That this should mean nothing to me because I’m such a whore, basically. They didn’t have a lot of sympathy for me.Actress Pamela Anderson
In Anderson’s words, this type of questioning and judgment “felt like a rape.”
“Not to bring up something really heavy from my childhood, but when I was attacked by this guy, I thought everybody would know,” she explains in the film. “When the tape was stolen, it felt like that and the depositions were so brutal.”
“I remember looking at them thinking, … ‘why do these grown men hate me so much?’”
With the emergence of the internet, this footage was shared all over the world in an instant. The model and actor then described her professional persona as more of a “caricature” from that point forward, always linked to this stolen footage.
“I knew at that point my career was over,” she says.
'I blocked that a out of my life, I had to in order to survive'
That leads to the release of the series Pam & Tommy last year, which depicts a version of the "sex tape" scandal in Anderson’s life, but notably executed without her consent.
“They should have had to have my permission,” she says in Pamela, a love story. The star goes on to say that when she talked to her ex-husband about it, he said to not let it “hurt” her like it did the last time.
In one moment in the documentary, Anderson takes a call from her son Brandon Thomas Lee (also a producer on Pamela, a love story) after he watched the first three episodes of the Hulu series. He tells his mom that the setup for the show gives Seth Rogan’s character Rand Gauthier a reason to steal the tapes, because his father was an “a— hole” who didn’t pay for his home renovation work.
“I blocked that out of my life, I had to in order to survive,” Anderson says, adding that she “feels sick” with it coming back up again.
Documenting her life from childhood to her Broadway debut in Chicago last year, Pamela, a love story is really essential viewing for everyone to understand the consequences of this rather toxic way we consume content about celebrities.
Just because they have a public persona and reach a level of fame, doesn't mean these people and their bodies are, as Anderson puts it, "owned by the world."