The new series Pam and Tommy it’s a lot of things.
It’s a baudy look at the whirlwind romance of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee played by Lily James and Sebastian Stan, and an out-of-this-world crime caper involving a disgruntled electrician, an adult film producer, and mobsters.
Look past the salacious details and wild tonal shifts and what you find is a surprisingly sensitive portrait of the celebrity couple who were robbed and whose most personal moments have become the first instance of viral internet fame.
Broadcast on Disney+, Pam and Tommy claims to tell the true story of how the couple’s famous sex tape made its way onto the web in late 1995, exploding at the worst possible time for Anderson’s career. But for all the real-life details, the eight-part series lacks one essential ingredient: real-life Pamela Anderson participation.
Which begs the question, who is it for?
According to Vox senior cultural reporter Constance Grady, millennials are taking a fresh look at the culture they grew up with, from Britney Spears to Tara Reid to Pamela Anderson: “All these women that the culture has kind of fetishized but also somehow despised at the same time.”
The manufacturers of Pam and Tommy say that their goal is to correct this narrative.
Craig Gillespie is a producer and directed the first three episodes of the series. Speaking to CBC News, he called it an opportunity to show the real story of what happened and the role played by the media. “We all have these preconceptions about what [sex] the tape was, we consumed it, we judged it. Then you can walk in…and be surprised.
While much of the public assumed that Lee and Anderson had taken advantage of the tape’s release, the series recounts how the video was stolen by Rand Gauthier, a disgruntled carpenter who had been hired to work on Tommy Lee’s estate. .
In the film, Gauthier is played by red-haired Seth Rogen as a sad bag who stages a heist for revenge.
Apart from the comedic aspects, Gillespie says he wanted to show how Canadian actress Pamela Anderson was more than the pretty blonde of Baywatch. “To be as successful and iconic as she is, you don’t fall for it, it takes a strong work ethic and tenacity.”
This isn’t the first time Gillespie has tackled a female-centric story that challenges our assumptions. With his 2017 film Me Tonya he offered a more sympathetic look at the life of figure skater Tonya Harding. For Pam and TommyGillespie says one of his favorite moments comes when a studio executive asks Anderson about his ambitions.
Sitting in the office surrounded by action movie posters Barbed wireAnderson quotes Jane Fonda and describes how she started out as a sex symbol in Barbarelle but became a successful activist and entrepreneur.
Help or hurt?
Grady says a lot of good can come from re-examining our relationship with these iconic women, citing the recent documentary about musician Britney Spears.
“Framing Britney Spears really drove a lot of the conversation… and swung public support behind her and is arguably perhaps one of the main reasons her conservatorship finally ended.
But she points out that it wasn’t easy for the woman in the middle of it all. “Britney herself said watching these documentaries made her cry for days.”
WATCH | Eli Glasner reviews the miniseries Pam and Tommy:
Attempts to reach Anderson
So what about the woman at the center of Pam and Tommy? According to the producers and cast, there were multiple attempts to cast Anderson. Showrunner Robert Seigel said Variety they reached out without response. Lily James, who plays Anderson, said she hoped Anderson would be involved.
Meanwhile, reports have surfaced that Anderson finds the series “very painful“Her friend Courtney Love told Vanity Fair that the show was causing Anderson”complex trauma.“
When asked how he could tell a story about mining without Anderson’s input, Craig Gillespie replied that he respects Anderson’s background.
“For us, we’re trying to correct the narrative and show the misconceptions and the exaggerations that happened and really understand how abhorrent the situation was. Hopefully that changes that perspective.”
Pamela Anderson did not respond when asked by CBC News about the series.
No permission required
Legally, the question is clear. Pamela Anderson’s consent or permission is not required, says Toronto entertainment lawyer Tara Parker.
“If you tell a true story in the public interest and in particular about famous people, there is a right to freedom of expression in [Canada]. There are first amendment rights in the United States and it’s really protected.”
There are limits to these rights; the story cannot defame the subject and must tell the truth, Parker says. In the case of Pam and Tommy he was closely based on Amanda Chicago Lewis Rolling Stone article of 2014.
Whether in real life or in the new TV series, the heart of what happened revolves around Anderson’s loss of control – his most private and intimate moments being shared and seen by millions people without their consent.
As the fictionalized version of Anderson on the show says, women who pose in bathing suits and for Playboy have no rights. “Because bitches don’t decide what happens to their body photos.”
It’s a powerful moment. But Constance Grady wonders if, in our rush to return for our own education and entertainment, we are mistreating Anderson again. “Are we still consuming in this lascivious way the pain and humiliation of these women?
As someone who writes regularly on public figures, Grady says it’s tricky. “To some extent, the stories are in the audience.”
But she insists, “If you’re trying to get a story back, you should have that person’s point of view. Don’t pretend you’re doing what Pamela Anderson would have you do.”