‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ follows the life of a famous televangelist couple as they sweep the nation and rise in popularity in the 1970s and 80s, only to then face a precipitous fall in the public eye. The film focuses on Tammy Faye, the glamorous, larger-than-life wife of Jim Bakker, who becomes the lifeblood of their organization and doesn’t shy away from questioning some of their more conservative beliefs. A whirlwind of love and optimism, the character of Tammy Faye paints an intriguing picture of a human being caught between her faith and her husband’s corrupt practices, which are revealed in the film. So, just how much of the story of ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ is true? Let’s find out.
Is The Eyes of Tammy Faye Based on a True Story?
Yes, ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ is based on a true story. The film is a biographical drama about Tamara Faye Messner, based on the 2000 documentary of the same name by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato. The script for its film version was subsequently penned by Abe Sylvia, who grew up during Tamara Faye’s heyday and was delighted when approached to work on a script about the televangelist. He allegedly watched the documentary multiple times when it first came out.
The idea for the film seemingly originated after lead actress Jessica Chastain, who essays the film’s namesake and is also a producer on the project, watched the award-winning 2000 documentary by Bailey and Barbato. As much as she liked the idea of someday making a movie in which she got to play the role of Tamara Faye, the project took many years to finally come to fruition.
The film depicts the central character from her time as a child who was already fascinated with religion and follows her through adulthood and her courtship with Jim Bakker. Her support for HIV/AIDS patients — which opposed the views of mainstream Evangelists at the time and remains a notable part of her legacy — is also depicted in the film.
The film’s director, Michael Showalter, pointed out how the central characters — with their seemingly questionable moral compass and idiosyncratic lives — made them highly misunderstood and intriguing cinematic subjects. Their opulent lifestyle and appearance also added a charming and eccentric layer to their portrayal.
Tamara Faye and her husband were longrunning hosts of ‘The Jim and Tammy Show’ on the PTL network in their heyday and lived a luxurious lifestyle, with their fundraising activities reportedly generating $100 million annually. However, Jim Bakker was indicted on multiple cases of fraud in the late 1980s, which made both him and his then-wife Tamara seemingly notorious in the public eye.
There was also an aspect of media frenzy at the time that seemingly blew Tamara’s role out of proportion, and the film paints a redeeming picture that leaves it up to audiences to decide the extent to which the film’s namesake knew about her husband’s fraudulent activities. Showalter is clear in his opinion that she wasn’t a conspirator.
After her separation from Jim Bakker, Tamara Faye married Roe Messner and was subsequently diagnosed with cancer. She passed away in 2007 but is still fondly remembered for the optimistic energy and purity of faith she imbibed in her followers. Though surrounded by controversy, her legacy is being increasingly redeemed. ‘The Eyes of Tammy Faye’ seemingly aims to explore the woman that was Tamara Faye — without her narrative getting hijacked by the stories of corruption that surrounded her for many years partly because of the media frenzy — hence bringing out a lesser-known but arguably authentic side of the film’s real-life namesake.
Read More: Where Was The Eyes of Tammy Faye Filmed?