After a harrowing deposition amid the legal battle against Penthouse, a searing speech in the seventh episode of Disney’s Pam & Tommy highlights exactly why the law failed to protect Pamela Anderson.
It’s been a whirlwind few weeks of romance, nostalgia and public scandal, but in the seventh episode of Disney’s miniseries Pam & Tommy, the story about Pamela Anderson’s troubling interview on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno finally comes full circle.
Cast your mind back to the first episode, and you might recall the opening scene in which a TV set blares an interview with the late-night show host. In the brief conversation, Leno relentlessly jokes about the tape in spite of Anderson’s visible distress. “What does it feel like,” he smirks, “to have that kind of exposure?”
The interview sets the tone of the series as we come to see how Anderson was subjected to a wave of misogyny and exploitation in the wake of the leak, from Rand Gauthier’s underground bootleg VHS operation to the determined efforts of Bob Guccione, the founder of Penthouse, to publish stills from the tape in his magazine.
As we discovered in the previous episode, Tommy Lee and his team of lawyers decide the best course of action is to sue Penthouse. Pam, however, is extremely reluctant, worried that a lawsuit will not only draw media attention to the tape but prompt Guccione to fight harder to defend his right to free speech. She’s right to trust her gut, as the tape quickly becomes part of the mainstream news cycle once the newspapers catch word of the lawsuit. Worse, she alone has to endure a sickening deposition while pregnant with her first child.
In the seventh episode of the series, Destroyer Of Worlds, we find out the result of the lawsuit. While away from home promoting her film Barb Wire, Pam receives a call from Tommy early in the morning. He’s buoyant with optimism as he informs her that the Penthouse verdict has come through unexpectedly fast, giving him reason to believe that the judge has ruled in their favour.
Soon, their lawyer arrives at their hotel room and delivers a summary judgment telling them that the judge has thrown their case out. Tommy is ecstatic, mistakenly believing that the judge has overruled the opposition. That’s until the lawyer delivers the devastating news that the judge has in fact ruled in favour of Penthouse, deeming them within their first amendment rights to print pictures because the tape is newsworthy and already in the public conversation.
With her worst fears confirmed, Pam then delivers a searing speech pinpointing why both the lawsuit and restraining order were rejected.
“They have to say something,” she begins. “They can’t say the actual reason.”
When her lawyer then asks what the real reason is, she replies simply: “That I don’t have any rights.” Then, she calls upon the insidious slut-shaming used against her in the deposition, in which Penthouse’s lawyers argued that Pam had forfeited her right to privacy because of her modelling career.
“Because I have spent my entire public life in a bathing suit. Because I have the nerve to pose for Playboy. They can’t actually say sluts, and that’s actually what this ruling is saying I am, in case you’re unclear. They can’t actually say that sluts don’t get to decide what happens to pictures of their body; that I don’t get to decide what happens to my actual body, so they say something else instead.”
The lawyer then says with a strained expression that he understands her position.
“You will never understand my position,” she hisses.
It’s not the only standout moment highlighting the pain Pam experienced as a result of the violation. As Leno lobs a cheap quip about exposure during her late-night interview, she recoils in shock under the bright lights.
Then, she turns directly to address Leno.
“It’s horrible,” she says quietly. “To have something so intimate stolen from you; something private from inside your marriage and have it taken without permission and exposed to the world – it’s devastating. This is devastating to us.”
It’s worth noting that in the real interview, Leno didn’t explicitly ask Anderson about the tape, although sleazy lines about her appearance abound during their meeting. What’s abundantly clear in this recreation, though, is how Anderson was treated by the media, law and culture at large – and how its deep-rooted misogyny was ultimately the reason she found no protection.
Christobel Hastings is Stylist's Entertainment Editor whose specialist interests include pop culture, LGBTQ+ identity and lore.