PAMELA, A LOVE STORY: From Blond Bombshell to Feminist Icon

May 30th, 2023

The tale of Pamela Anderson begins like many Hollywood movie cliches. A young, inexperienced woman comes to Tinseltown seeking fame and fortune. Idealized for her youth and beauty, she’s put on a pedestal for the world to admire as the industry makes a fortune off her blatant sex appeal. But her success is short-lived. In record time the press and public come to vilify her for the very qualities for which she was originally celebrated. But unlike the harried heroines of this tired trope, Pamela Anderson as portrayed in PAMELA, A LOVE STORY (a new movie streaming on Netflix) tells the story of the rare bombshell who rejects martyrdom and becomes a feminist heroine by movie’s end. No small feat in a society that too often lionizes women for all the wrong reasons only to gleefully tear her back down.

From the onset of the film, we learn life was never easy for Pamela Anderson. Born in Canada, she was raised by an alcoholic father, sexually abused by a babysitter and then raped by an older man when she was only 12. Like many victims of sexual abuse, she suffered in silence and shame. Fame was never a goal, and yet celebrity found her in a football stadium while she was merely watching a game. Noticed for her striking beauty, her image was displayed on the Jumbotron before the large crowd, capturing the attention of Playboy Magazine who thereafter featured her as their centerfold. Interestingly, Anderson didn’t find the experience with Playboy exploitative. To the contrary, she claims being a Playboy pinup was a step in her road to recovery, a chance to reclaim her agency, to prove to herself that she was no mere victim. And then Hollywood came calling.

Despite Anderson’s lack of acting experience, producers and casting directors pursued her for a lead role on the primetime series, BAYWATCH. The sole requirement for the part was to look good in a bathing suit while running along the beach. The show would go on to become a pop cultural sensation and international phenomenon, eventually earning a worldwide audience of over a billion people. The huge success of this formulaic show was at least partially attributable to the charisma and beauty of its female stars. Pamela Anderson became an instant household name. But rather than be admired for her success it made her an object of ridicule, exacerbated when her husband, Tommy Lee ensnared her in a sex tape scandal.

The documentary does an admirable job of detailing the ugliness of this travesty. I won’t rehash the details but suffice to say the legal system utterly failed her. Exhausted and emotionally drained, she withdrew the lawsuit, and the stolen sex tape was released to the world. Unfairly, much of the public ridicule seemed directed at Anderson rather than Tommy Lee, a development that should not surprise anyone given society’s double standard that judges women so harshly while giving men a pass. The ridicule would eventually become so relentless and cruel that it would eventually destroy her career and subject her to domestic violence (not unlike what we’re yet again witnessing with Amber Heard after her unfortunate marriage to Johnny Depp. Hurray for Hollywood my ass).

To her credit, Ms. Anderson fought back. She bravely ended her marriage and confronted the ongoing brutish and cruel treatment from the media with a quiet dignity that put her detractors to shame. A devoted single mother of two children, she became an activist for animal rights causes, going so far as to being the subject of a comedy roasting for a donation to the PETA organization. By then, she had developed a thick skin and was no longer bothered by the tasteless jokes since it was raising money for a cause she cared so deeply.

Anderson left Hollywood thereafter, returning to Canada and found redemption on the stages of Broadway, starring in a revival of CHICAGO, and winning over hard-nosed NY critics and audiences. Her newly discovered talent as a stage actress can only leave us disgusted with a toxic system that forces women to endure brutish treatment rather than allowing them the freedom to develop and nurture their talents. Maybe there would have be no end to their accomplishments. But until this system changes, we are only left to wonder what could have been if they had been given a chance.




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