‘Pamela: A Love Story’ tackles media sexism and questions of agency, consent

Often, when people think about Pamela Anderson, a few stereotypical tropes come to mind. They usually think about a busty blonde actress from the popular television series Baywatch, along with layouts from Playboy magazine. They may even think about a widely released pornographic home video from 1996 (which was, by the way, the first video to go “viral” on the internet). The Netflix documentary Pamela: A Love Story tackles these themes associated with the celebrity and what they mean for her life and the society she lives in.

Previous Netflix films of this genre, such as 2012’s After Porn Ends, document the fact that once an actor is involved in sex work, including pornography (either magazine or video), their ability to recast and retell their story is almost always lost. The “public” thus comes across as quite hypocritical: Porn actors are the subject of fantasy and desire yet also of judgment and ridicule.

When one’s intimate moments or nude body are seen by the public, there is also a sense of “public ownership” that develops around the person, their image, and their work. This sense of public “ownership” is on view in this documentary with clips of multiple interviewers asking Anderson invasive questions about whether she has had cosmetic surgery.

It is difficult to imagine heterosexual men, or anyone in another line of work, routinely being asked such questions.

A good amount of the film deals with the notorious honeymoon videotape of late 1990s infamy. The tape showed Anderson and her then husband Tommy Lee in a series of home videos that included the two engaging in sexual acts and intimacy. Many at the time assumed the pair deliberately released the tape and profited immensely from it. Anderson uses the documentary to set the record straight.

She recalls that they turned down an offer by the owner of Penthouse magazine. The publisher had offered the couple $5 million for the rights to the film. They turned it down, saying they wanted that part of their marriage to remain private. In fact, they also sued the company that distributed the film against their consent. Anderson and Lee ultimately withdrew the suit after having to go through an intrusive court process.

The Internet Entertainment Group, the distributors of the tape, argued the public had a legitimate right to see the contents of the video, regardless of whether the couple wished it to be publicly aired! Ultimately, Anderson and Lee did not make a dime from the video’s release. In fact, the video debacle was key to making Anderson persona non grata in Hollywood for a considerable amount of time.


In the documentary, Anderson speaks of several instances of childhood sexual abuse she experienced. There was some speculation that her history of short-term marriages to hyper-masculine heterosexual men, such as Kid Rock and Tommy Lee, may have been related to her experience of trauma. She speaks of growing up feeling “ugly.” Being portrayed in the public eye as a stereotype of attractiveness seems to have served as a limited antidote towards this feeling of ugliness.

Pamela is a powerful attempt by Anderson to retell her narrative. In the film, we see a different person than the one we may have thought we knew. We discover her to be a Canadian born on the exact date of Canada’s centennial—July 1, 1967. She was raised in a small village on Vancouver Island and currently lives in the same home where she grew up. We also see a loving and caring mother to two young men.

The documentary also dives into Anderson’s activism. Many people may already know she’s a vocal member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Though the organization garners its share of criticism, Anderson is quite proud of her activism around animal liberation. The film also briefly touches upon her defense of cyberpunk hacktivist Julian Assange.

Being type-cast as a sex symbol left Anderson feeling dismissed and taken for granted, she tells viewers. The documentary shows her wish to be seen as a legitimate actor and as a fully-fledged human being.

This movie is an entertaining story for those looking to challenge dominant media portrayals of women. Through the use of Anderson’s journey, the film explores topics of sexism and media narrative. The documentary provides viewers with an understanding of Anderson as a remarkable person who is so much more complex than the tired sexist caricature the media peddled of her for years.

This film is worth a watch by all those fighting for their own emancipation.

Pamela: A Love Story is currently streaming on Netflix.

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Brian W. Major
Brian W. Major

Brian Major has worked in the field of community mental health and addictions for 15 years, being clean and sober himself for over 23 years. Brian is a member of the Communist Party of Canada in Barrie, Ontario.