When the Hulu series Pam & Tommy dropped last year, it purported to be a feminist retelling of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee’s ‘90s sex-tape theft scandal, focusing on the brutal fallout for her life and career instead of the puritanism and cheap jokes that coloured the day’s coverage. The trouble is, the show left Anderson out of the storytelling yet again, forcing her to reckon once more with a part of her life she’d hoped to put behind her. In 2023, she’s telling her story on her own terms, having just released the book Love, Pamela and the Netflix documentary Pamela, a love story in quick succession. There’s a lot to learn from Anderson’s story.
Stand your ground
Anderson never accepted a penny from the many offers she and Lee got to publish authorized versions of her sex tape. Unlike her Playboy photoshoots, which she’d chosen to do and found empowering, the private tape was stolen and released without her permission. She sought to set a precedent, putting privacy rights and consent at the forefront of her battle. The fact that she later dropped a high-profile lawsuit against one major distributor to focus on her family was widely misconstrued as settling. “We never settled on anything,” she says in the Netflix doc. “We just told everyone to get lost.”
The right choice can be the toughest
After Lee was sentenced to six months in jail in 1998 for assaulting Anderson, she wrote a letter to her son, Dylan, who was just nine months old. Being with the father of her children had been important to her, but Lee had destroyed their trust. “I would rather be alone than live with that abuse again,” she wrote in the letter. Anderson and Lee later separated.
Find a cause
Constantly peppered with questions about her body and sex life, Anderson learned to deflect and draw attention to a cause she would spend much of her life fighting for: the ethical treatment of animals. “I was already getting teased and made fun of; I wanted to take that and use it for good,” she told the filmmakers. Say what you want about PETA’s divisive tactics—Anderson drew constant attention and countless dollars to the animal-rights group.
Remember where you came from
After a lifetime in the spotlight, Anderson returned to her home of Ladysmith, on Vancouver Island, a few years ago to spend time with her elderly parents. The move proved fruitful for her well-being. “I’ve always come home when I have some trouble going on, and I always kinda know what I’m doing when I leave,” she says. “It’s, like, the truth serum.”
Try something new
As the Hulu series about her darkest moments rolled out in 2022, Anderson got an unexpected offer: to play the leading role of murderer Roxie in a Broadway rendition of Chicago. She embraced the chance to try something new in her 50s, throwing herself into a harried series of rehearsals and dance and vocal lessons. In Pamela, a love story, she seems to find parallels between her life and Roxie’s: “Her dream isn’t to be famous. Her dream is to be respected, to be seen, and to have freedom.”
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