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What ‘Pam & Tommy’ says about Hollywood’s shameless exploitation of women’s trauma

We all enjoy a bit of celebrity drama. Being nosey is a shameless hobby that I partake in when it comes to the world of influencers, musicians, actors and other celebrities. Guilty as charged. I’m sure I’m not the only one who binged Selling Sunset’s fourth season on Netflix in one day. But when the line is crossed between a bit of good old on-screen tension and the intolerable digging into the past traumas of celebrities for ratings… something feels off.

It is that exact feeling viewers will experience when watching the first episode of Pam & Tommy on Hulu/Disney+. I should know, I endured it myself. Let me explain why.

The 411 on ‘Pam & Tommy’

Pam & Tommy became available to stream this week, with its first episode airing on Tuesday 2 February 2022. The romance biopic serves us 90s nostalgic mayhem, following the relationship of Baywatch beauty Pamela Anderson (played by Lily James) and Mötley Crüe’s fabled drummer Tommy Lee (played by Sebastian Stan). The mini series’ big drama lies in the infamous event of the couple’s 1998 sex tape, which was stolen and leaked to the entire world.

Directed by Craig Gillespie, the show captures all the chaos surrounding the controversial relationship. Adapted from Amanda Chicago’s explosive 2014 Rolling Stone article, Pam & Tommy also features an extended cast of stars from Nick Offerman and Seth Rogen to Taylor Schilling. The main plot surrounds the robbery and theft of Anderson and Lee’s VHS sex tape from the night of their honeymoon by Rand Gauthier (played by Rogen), a contractor who wanted to get revenge for being fired. Gauthier and friends actually became wealthy off the private moment and exploitative voyeurism. Pam & Tommy just rehashes all of that up again almost three decades later.

Most media outlets fawned over the never-ending prop mania on set from nipple rings and steel balls for Stan’s portrayal of Lee to James’ uncanny likeness to Anderson. The two actors playing the series’ leads bear striking resemblance to the celebrities the show is based on. Perfect casting, but I still had a feeling it wasn’t quite right.

For the gen Z babies like me, here’s the rundown on Anderson and Lee, who dominated the tabloids and celebrity world back then. The internet’s big sister @hellotefi (Estefania Pessoa) has a series documenting all the highs and lows of the lovers. “This tale begins where all the worst tales begin, the 90s,” narrates Tefi, which is when the couple met—so we’re already off to a great start.

@hellotefi

Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee part 1 #pamelaanderson #tommylee

♬ original sound - hellotefi

After some face licking and a strip-bikini contest date—yes, you read that right—the duo got hitched on a beach barefoot and the world went mad. If you’re still confused as to why, dear zillenial, think of “the most rock and roll, horrible shit you can imagine and multiply it by 1 trillion,” as Tefi adeptly puts it. That’s the mindset you need to have in order to understand Lee’s legendary fame and the “DNA of Playboy” that was Anderson. However, in our post #MeToo era, there’s something awfully insidious about Hollywood choosing to make a show that exploits a celebrity and her trauma, especially when told not to.

The offscreen drama

What’s made worse in this particular situation is not only does the show unashamedly dives into a traumatic incident but it sidestepped Anderson entirely, not informing her initially and continuing to ignore the hard no she gave against the project later on. Even though she explicitly said it was “very painful,” Gillespie and crew went ahead without her permission. In a now-deleted Facebook post, Courtney Love, a good friend of Anderson’s, said the tape “destroyed my friend Pamela’s life,” and decried the mini series. James, despite being heralded for morphing into Anderson, was reportedly shut out by her after asking her to be involved with the show.

In an interview with Dazed, Gillespie—who has already divulged a woman’s trauma once before with I, Tonya—defended Pam & Tommy. Despite Anderson’s explicit feelings on the matter, the director went ahead with the series with a co-sign by Lee, stating that the topics involved were handled in the best way possible by the writing team.

“Rob Siegel (and the other writers) have written such an empathetic storyline,” Gillespie shared. “I felt in my heart that we were portraying them in an honest, empathetic way that leaves the viewer feeling culpable, and was a strong commentary on how complicit we are in all of this, particularly through the lens of today. I feel there’s a really strong story that she’ll like,” he went on to explain.

While I highly doubt Anderson would jump for joy at her trauma played out on screen for millions to view for a second time, Gillespie remains confident in his series.

Much ado about nothing

In light of all the context behind the many instances of sexual assault Anderson faced in the past, as well as the media fallout from the sex tape release, it’s difficult to see Pam & Tommy’s light-hearted take on the situation. The “fun opener,” as The Guardian‘s review of episode one details, loses the very complicated and triggering narrative behind the epic drama. It’s something you can’t quite shake watching episode one—though the aesthetics are beautiful and the acting is exceptional, that feeling doesn’t go away.

The feeling of sheer and utter discomfort I’m describing was put into words after the first episode came out and Twitter got to talking about it, as Twitter does, under #PamAndTommy. Interestingly, the consensus seemed to ignore Anderson’s side for the most part. However, one tweet, posted by writer and culture critic Haaniyah Angus, encapsulated the sour taste left in my mouth and the pit in my stomach that I got from episode one (and the reason why I won’t be continuing the show).

This is yet again an example of Hollywood parading trauma, particularly the trauma women experience in the public eye, without consent for audiences’ pleasure in a worryingly emboldened way. Digging into a toxic relationship or traumatic past scandal under the guise of empowerment and awareness because the idea mill is running dry seems to be Hollywood’s go-to move nowadays. What strikes me as the oddest is the show’s initial focus on Gauthier, the man who stole the tape. “But that’s what I like about it. It’s subverting expectations… Moving forward, it really becomes Pamela’s story, and the way that sneaks up on you is a great journey for the audience,” Gillespie claimed. 

Should you watch it? I can’t make this decision for you, but I think it’s only fair to say that ‘Pamela’s story’ should be told by Anderson herself, or at least get her approval first…

It’s time to talk about the misogynoir Rico Nasty endured on the King Vamp tour

The tales of ‘Tacobella’ seemed to have a very nasty chapter towards the end of 2021 for Rico Nasty when she opened for fellow rapper Playboi Carti’s now-infamous Narcissist/King Vamp tour. A vibrant, colourful and expressive rapper who suits every hair colour possible and never fails to amaze with her outlandish looks, Rico Nasty is an inspiration for many fans, particularly for a lot of black girls like myself. The artist represents a certain demographic with her music—the girls who love alternative looks and creative style and have a thing for roaring scream music to rage to. Which is why I, among many others, was so stunned by the hate she received while touring for Playboi Carti and how downplayed it was by some of his fans.

Playboi Carti’s tour promoted his highly anticipated second studio album Whole Lotta Red, released in 2020. Naturally, after every new album comes a tour. The King Vamp tour across North America was announced in late 2021, and listed Rico Nasty as a supporting act for several dates from October through to December.

Now, it’s not uncommon for fans to not entirely dig the opening act for their favourite artists, right? I mean, you’re there to see your fav, not necessarily anyone else. However, what’s interesting is the fact that Nasty is the perfect opener for Carti—only thing is, she’s not a man. With her rager persona, singles like ‘Smack A Bitch’, ‘IDGAF’, and ‘OHFR?’ which easily fit the moshpit hype vibe and her charisma on stage, Nasty is just the right amount of chaos for a concert like Carti’s. What no one could anticipate was the additional chaos that came from her being there.

What happened at the King Vamp Tour?

@noflowerzforyou

rico i love u you didn’t deserve that queen #riconasty #playboicarti #carti #carticoncert #rico #sandiego #sd

♬ original sound - Luna!

In an interview with Billboard in December of last year, Nasty shared how she felt “embraced” on the tour, even though she was the lone female act on the road alongside fellow supporting act Ken Car$on. However, it seems as though this couldn’t be further from the truth observing what happened when the tour stopped over in Los Angeles. In early November, Nasty experienced issues with fans while opening for Carti. She was booed and had many disrespectful comments hurled at her by fans when performing on stage.

In a series of now-deleted tweets to her 816,000 followers, Nasty expressed her frustration and hardship performing for Carti’s fans on tour and their disrespect towards her. “Anti black ass crowd. Weak ass little boys with blonde pubes. Ugh. Get me out of here,” she tweeted the day following The Forum concert in Los Angeles on 7 November 2021.

Things didn’t get any better when she opened again for Carti a few days later in San Diego, at the Sycuan Stage on 9 November. The rapper received a flood of chants for Carti to come on stage instead and heckling from fans. There were even videos of fans sleeping on the floor during her set making the rounds on TikTok. Originally, Nasty held her own and more videos of her standing her ground against the rude reception circulated on social media.

@qtgraco

#riconasty #playboicarti #portlandoregon #modacenter #fyp #fight

♬ Smack a Bitch - Rico Nasty

At one part of the performance, Nasty even had a bottle thrown at her. Angered by this, she jumped off the stage and into the crowd but was held off by security before anything else occurred. This prompted a series of worrying tweets from the artist openly discussing her contemplation of suicide due to the stress she was under.

The social media situation

While fans continued to treat her poorly at the following shows held in California, Nasty’s series of tweets caught the attention of media outlets out of concern for her wellbeing. Many fans addressed their distaste at the reception she received. Others urged the singer to quit the show altogether for the sake of her mental health, and some called for Carti to step in and address his fans’ behaviour too.

Though the tour has now concluded, I still have a bone to pick with it, mainly due to the lack of support Nasty received during that time. Time and time again, we see female artists, specifically black female artists, be treated terribly by fans, fellow artists and by the industry at large. But why is that the case?

Since I know I am definitely not the only one who had some strong opinions—to put it very lightly—on the situation, I decided to reach out to LA-based music journalist and TikTok content creator Masani Musa from @cultureunfiltered to better gain some real insight into this issue. Masani reported on the events that took place between Nasty and Carti’s fans during the first half of the tour.

@cultureunfiltered

like what’s going on fr? #fyp #cultureunfiltered #entertainmentnews #riconasty #playboicarti #musictok #LevisMusicProject

♬ original sound - CultureUnfiltered | MasaniMusa

In our interview, I asked Masani to reflect on what changes need to be made in the music industry in order to stop this troubled history from repeating itself. Here’s what she had to say.

First off, could you tell us a bit about yourself?

“I’ve reported on hip-hop music and news via blogs, radio, and presently via short-form content on TikTok. As a creator whose focus is on hip-hop music and its subcultures, it has been rewarding to see how it has continuously grown and impacted the world. I enjoy talking about the trends and new music I discover because I feel like we’re experiencing a digital renaissance with so many creatives willing to share their art with the world.”

What are the main hurdles that black artists face within the industry?

“A lot of black people in the industry are first-generation creatives. With that comes a lot of pressure to succeed with less of a security net. Also, when you factor in ‘flex’ culture, it’s almost like you have to be successful, ‘lit’, and maintain the creativity that got your ‘foot in the door’ in real-time on social media.”

How does the experience of being black in the music industry differ from that of other races?

“I think the black experience in the music industry mirrors the black experience in a lot of industries. You have so much more to lose if things don’t go as you’ve planned.”

What are your thoughts on Playboi Carti’s fans and their reaction to Nasty on tour?

“The whole situation was extremely unfortunate and very eye-opening. I think we’ve gotten to a place where certain spaces in hip-hop have adopted an ‘anything goes’ type of energy and unfortunately, it appears that black women aren’t celebrated within that space,” Masani explained.

“Her response was heart-breaking because Rico Nasty is extremely talented and deserves respect and a safe space to perform her art in.”

What are your thoughts on the treatment of black female musicians by other artists, fans, and the industry?

“Black women contribute so much to hip-hop culture yet get the short end of the stick oftentimes. I feel like it mirrors society in a way,” Masani shared. She further explained the tricky nature of navigating the industry as a black female artist, “We aren’t protected, and unfortunately, things have to get really bad in order for us to have conversations surrounding this. I feel like black women in music should be embraced and provided a safe space for in the industry, among their fandom, and by their colleagues in music.”

What about Playboi Carti’s role in this?

One of the things that bothered me about this entire debacle is how Playboi Carti refused to do anything about it. I mean, it was his tour. Shouldn’t headline acts be held accountable for not stepping in?

Masani seemed to share the same sentiment, and stated, “I believe that if Playboi Carti stepped in, things would have gone down differently. Should he be held accountable for not stepping in? In a perfect world, yes. However, I don’t think his silence will do much harm to his career or tour so I guess things just are the way they are.”

What can we do then?

In our interview, Masani offered some insight into what can be done to support black artists like Nasty and their mental health. “Showing positive support to artists on social media and making noise about instances like this are important. Also, fostering positive environments for them to perform their art,” she concluded.

What’s happened since the fallout?

 

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A post shared by TACOBELLA (@riconasty)

Since the initial blow up and social media fallout, a number of celebrities and fellow female artists including Megan Thee Stallion—who’s yet another victim of misogynoirJT of the City Girls and Flo Milli—who teamed up with Nasty featuring on her single ‘Money’ in late 2021—came to Nasty’s defence on Twitter. We all know that gorgeous gorgeous girls support each other.

And seriously, when’s the concert for all the rap girlies? Sign me up.