When Ladysmith’s Pamela Anderson was first put on the big screen at a BC Lions game in the summer of 1989, nobody knew what chain of events was being set in motion.
From posing in Playboy to marrying rockstars. And starring on Baywatch to having her intimate life exposed in the form of a sex tape. Anderson was a larger-than-life pop culture presence in the 1990s and 2000s.
She’s in the news again, and this time she’s telling her own story in a recently released documentary and autobiography.
“I was just so captivated by her once I met her, and how she sees the world,” said Ryan White, director of the new Netflix film, Pamela, A Love Story.
We get a glimpse of how Anderson sees the world. And we learn that there is a lot more to the BC-born and raised beauty than the one-dimensional sketches you might remember.
She’s a real woman with a very real-life story.
“It’s time to take back the narrative,” is the way Anderson puts it in the documentary.
White, the film’s director, agreed with this approach. “I wanted her to be the shepherd through her life story,” he said.
As such, it’s a humanizing portrayal of an Island woman, who is so much more than just a cover girl.
Residents of Ladysmith see her as a neighbour, and they’re quite protective of her.
“We look at her as a person, she’s a mom, she’s generous. She’s an animal lover,” resident Klair Strom told CHEK News.
“She’s a lovely lady and her advocacy for animals and the environment are very well known,” said mayor Aaron Stone. (The film shows us Anderson’s activist side that many may not know.)
In the film, Ladysmith looms large, visually, and also as the backdrop to her some of the most difficult moments of her early life.
Her childhood was far from perfect. She endured everything from molestation to rape, to domestic violence fuelled by her father’s drinking.
All before she was 12 years old.
She recalls these moments with straightforward honesty, and that’s an ongoing theme throughout the film.
“She wasn’t willing to do things for drama, she wasn’t willing to do things to make a more traditional documentary,” said White. “She was very just, ‘This is it, make what you want out of it, but I’m not going to exaggerate anything.’”
Anderson details how the previous trauma she’d endured had made her “very, very shy.”
Having a total spotlight put on her as a woman and sex symbol was, for her, in many ways self-empowering. It was a way to take back control.
Her treatment by the media and her own participation in this sexualized image of herself is closely examined.
She recalls some details with warm memories and amusement, such as her first shoot for Playboy.
Other moments are tinged with disappointment, but as far as her participation went, she shows little to no bitterness or regrets.
“She really challenges you not to land in [good or bad] binaries… Pamela really lives in that gray area,” said White.
It was the non-consensual use of her sexual image that continues to impact her to this day.
The leak of the notorious sex tape between her and drummer ex-husband Tommy Lee is the most contentious memory discussed in the film.
But Anderson addresses the subject head-on. She sets the record straight on details not reported in the media at the time. The doc humanizes her, and it is difficult not to feel empathy for the ridicule she had to endure.
Ultimately, she shows us that what lies beneath the surface — of a person, of a story — is often more complex than may appear.
Pamela, A Love Story is streaming now on Netflix.
You might just come to see one of your Island neighbours in a new light.