Pam and Tommy

Hulu’s ‘Pam & Tommy’ Is an Entertaining Show, But Is It Ethical?

The new TV series is causing a lot of controversy over the moral question of sharing another person's story without their consent.
February 17, 2022
8 mins read

Hulu’s new show “Pam & Tommy” provides audiences with an undoubtedly entertaining experience. The first three episodes premiered on Feb. 2. The miniseries stars powerhouse actors Lily James and Sebastian Stan and dramatizes the lives of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee and their infamous sex tape that was leaked in 1995. The show follows the trend of slow-releasing episodes to sustain suspense in an era of streaming and increased accessibility. Lake Bell directed the fourth episode of the show, which was released on Feb. 6, while producer Craig Gillespie directed the first three.

Sources revealed to Entertainment Weekly that Anderson was unhappy about the series. The source claims, “The upcoming ‘Pam & Tommy’ Hulu series has been harrowing for Anderson and for anyone that loves her. It is shocking that this series is allowed to happen without her approval.” They added that Anderson “feels so violated to this day” over the sex tape’s release and that she “won’t be watching” when it’s released.

Lake Bell, director of “Pam & Tommy” Episode 4, discussed her intentions for the overall project and her views on the story in an interview with Variety Magazine. Bell mentioned it was a joy to work on such an involved project during the COVID-19 pandemic. She told Variety, “This was the job that gave me creative sustenance in a time where we were all locked down.” Bell also expanded on her personal connection to Anderson’s story: “To have some unknown entity called the worldwide web to suck up your own personal property and broadcast it to the entire world, I mean, it’s beyond salt in the wound.” Later she added, “I feel very protective, almost, of this story. Pamela was being represented in a way that made me feel comfortable to participate because I felt like it gave her voice in a time where at the time of the incident, there was no voice given. We have to be open and understand that yes, this is the narrative and it is a dramatization of a real event and occurrence and a massively traumatizing experience in this person’s life.”

Bell’s comments highlight the crux of the “Pam & Tommy” issue. Is it right for a show that relives someone’s most painful time and severe breach of privacy to be made without their consent? Bell reminds viewers, “This is a real, living, breathing, multi-dimensional woman whose life was forever altered because of theft. And to boot, she was accused of releasing it herself.” Anderson was not only a victim of vicious celebrity culture but also of a crime that caused irrevocable trauma. “Pam & Tommy” retells a story of extreme and intimate violation, but it begs the question of whether it can be authentic or ethical without Anderson’s involvement.

Another famous ‘90s icon and friend of Anderson’s, Courtney Love, slammed the production of the new show in a since-deleted Facebook post. In reference to Anderson and Lee’s sex tape, she wrote, “It destroyed my friend Pamela’s life. Utterly” and later signed off the post saying, “My heart goes out to Pammy. Further causing her complex trauma. And shame on Lily James whoever the f— she is. #vile.”

Lily James revealed that she had tried several times to reach out to Anderson to discuss the show and gain her approval, to no avail. James told Net-a-Porter’s Porter, “I was really hopeful that she would be involved. I wish it had been different. My sole intention was to take care of the story and to play Pamela authentically.” Probably best known for her titular role in Disney’s live-action “Cinderella” and her portrayal of young Donna in “Mamma Mia 2,” James stepped out of her comfort zone for this role and dedicated herself to the project entirely. She detailed her rigorous preparation: “I read the books [Anderson] has written, I read her poetry, I can parrot along to all her interviews.” She said that she had “never worked so hard” on a project and added that she continued to try and contact Anderson, “right up until we started filming.”

Alternatively, Lee gave the show his stamp of approval last year in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. He emphasized that “people need to know” what occurred. He also added, “I know Sebastian, he’s playing me. From what he’s told me, really beautiful story. I think a lot of people would think it’s one thing, but it’s really about privacy and how things got crazy then. There’s different laws now.”

Anderson, however, remained out of reach, and the production team of “Pam & Tommy” could not contact her. In a comment to Entertainment Weekly, co-showrunner D.V. DeVincentis said that while he tried many times to attain a response from Anderson, her silence was “understandable” given the series’s subject matter. The “Pam & Tommy” team members were adamant that the show convey a positive portrayal of Anderson and wanted to let her know that they cared about doing her story justice.

“Pam & Tommy” director Gillespie also told Entertainment Weekly that they respected Anderson’s privacy. He said, “I felt, for us, what we’re trying to do is really change the narrative and your perspective of what happened.” He added, “And this felt like such an opportunity to do that and to be able to look at the story through today’s lens and the outrageousness and just the atrocities that happened. I felt that hopefully, it would change people’s point of view on that.”

The interviews from everyone who worked on “Pam & Tommy” reveal that they attempted many times in good faith to involve Anderson and prove to her that the show was meant to shed light on her victimhood and portray her positively. While biopics are frequently made with less involvement from the subject, it is important to preserve freedom of art. “Pam & Tommy” raise the issue: At what point does art matter less than respect for another person’s trauma? The creators of the show, and Tommy Lee, felt it was important to tell the story. But whether viewers watch the show or decide to skip it, Anderson’s pain should never be trivialized.

Julie Morse, Pomona College

Writer Profile

Julie Morse

Pomona College
English, French minor

Originally from New York City but came to California for college. Loves reading and writing in their free time and maybe wants to become an author or go into publishing.

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