Directed by Amy Bandlien and Bryan Storkel, Netflix’s ‘The Pez Outlaw’ is an engaging docudrama that follows Steve Glew, AKA The Pez Outlaw. It charts his journey through the 90s and early 2000s as he makes a fortune by smuggling millions of PEZ dispensers from Eastern Europe into the US and selling them to eager collectors. Moreover, it chronicles his downfall and eventual efforts to tell his story to the world.
The docudrama features extensive interviews of Steven, his family, and acquaintances, but it also has numerous dramatized scenes featuring talented actors and The Pez Outlaw himself. This and the bizarre nature of the story makes one wonder just how true everything depicted is and whether it is rooted in reality. If you’re curious to know the same, let’s find out together, shall we?
Is The Pez Outlaw a True Story?
Yes, ‘The Pez Outlaw’ is based on a true story. It documents the actual experiences of Steve Glew, a machine operator from DeWitt, Michigan, who smuggled and sold a total of 2 million PEZ dispensers into the US from warehouses in Slovenia and Hungary. From 1994 to 2005, he reportedly earned $4.5 million by admission. Steve stated that beginning in 1994, he would travel almost every month to Eastern Europe, where he sourced the PEZ dispensers from warehouses by paying bribes through border checkings and security posts.
Steve would bring back around 10,000 pieces at one time, including rare collectibles, models discontinued in the US, prototypes yet to hit the market, and factory rejects. He priced them between $5 and $1,000, depending on the type of model the collector wanted. Since PEZ Candy Inc. hadn’t registered their trademark with US customs, his bringing the dispensers to the country was not considered illegal. However, his selling the PEZ dispensers somewhat broke the rules, but the company did not take any legal action against him.
Later, Steve partnered with a European PEZ executive to source liquidated dispensers, and his business boomed for several years. He would do massive giveaways and sell his wares at the biggest PEZ conventions in the US. Albeit, in 1998, his collaborator feared getting caught and decided to back off, resulting in him designing his own prototypes and using a toy broker to get PEZ to manufacture them. Sadly for him, PEZ Candy Inc. decided to crack down on the US black marketers affecting their sales and targeted Steve.
The company replicated all of Steve’s prototypes and officially sold them for lesser prices, gradually putting him out of business. Left with massive unsold stock and a gaping $250,000 debt, he slowly retreated away from the public eye. After several years of living discreetly, Steve decided to take matters into his hands and sell his story to the world. Thus, he began blogging online as his alter-ego, The Pez Outlaw and shared details of his never-seen-before journey.
The following year, Steve put up the blog on eBay, offering movie and book rights for $750,000. A few years later, Amy Bandlien and Bryan Storkel decided to take up his story as a subject for their documentary and approached him. While ‘The Pez Outlaw’ is primarily based on Steve’s true story, several parts have been embellished for entertainment purposes. He has himself stated that these portions have been stylized in the style of Tom Clancy’s novels, which he loved reading during his work shifts. In addition, since the directors have taken a lot of references from his blog and personal account, it is likely that he, too, has exaggerated some details of his life.
This is because Steve’s primary aim was to sell the story to the media, which required adding a few dramatic bits to enhance his narrative. For instance, he has wholly villainized Scott McWhinnie, the former President of PEZ Candy Inc. US, in his story. At the same time, Steve claims that the latter was the reason for his downfall and had specifically targeted his business. As Scott has refused to comment, it is hard to say how much of the Michigan native’s words are true.
Furthermore, though the Netflix docudrama features real accounts of people, it has dramatized portions set in the 90s, starring Steve as himself. Donning the persona of The Pez Outlaw, he takes the audience through how he sourced his PEZ dispensers in Eastern Europe. The Pez Outlaw is a heroic version of Steve in his own eyes, so it slightly blurs the line between fact and fiction, as it somewhat glorifies his actions. To reiterate, it is safe to say that while ‘The Pez Outlaw’ mostly sticks to authentic and verified facts, some parts may be slightly fictional and must be taken with a grain of salt.
Read More: What is Steve Glew’s Net Worth?