Paris Hilton Did Not Feel Empowered After Her Infamous Sex Tape Leaked

Paris Hilton’s life is front and center in a new documentary, and it’s anything but simple.

The American Meme follows the hotel heiress and socialite, recapping the nearly two decades she’s spent in the public eye. Hilton, 37, rose to fame when she was 19 years old after a Vanity Fair photo shoot with her sister in 2000. She nabbed a starring role in the hit Fox reality show The Simple Life three years later, making her a household name.

But Hilton’s celebrity skyrocketed after a sex tape with then-boyfriend Rick Fallomon was leaked in 2004.

In the new film, Hilton opened up about the incident and talked about the trauma that lingered for years after.

“It was like being raped,” she says in the documentary. “It felt like I'd lost part of my soul and been talked about in such cruel and mean ways. I literally wanted to die at some points. I was like, ‘I just don't want to live,’ because I thought everything was taken away from me.”

The American Meme premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival on Friday with a post-screening Q&A featuring Hilton. She talked about how it was difficult to establish her own identity beyond what tabloids and reality TV producers asked of her, especially since she became famous before social media was a thing. She said the documentary was a rare opportunity to break beyond her mediated persona.

"When Bert [Marcus, the director] told me about this film, he basically said, ‘Paris, you're the OG of all this,’” she said. “I really trusted him and was very vulnerable about things I had never spoken about before, and basically just wanted to show the real me, because I don't think I ever have before.”

The American Meme explores the rise and pitfall of social media celebrity: people we call “influencers” whose popularity comes from an outsized online presence and the continuous, controlled access they offer into their personal lives. Hilton almost single-handedly pioneered this brand of fame. She invented being “famous for being famous”; before Instagram or the Kardashians, Hilton was the original reality star.

Today, Hilton is engaged, runs various international cosmetics and fashion lines, is producing new music and TV, and boasts a robust 18.1 million followers on Twitter and 8.7 million on Instagram.

The American Meme features Hilton alongside other social media celebrities, including Instagram celebrity Josh "The Fat Jew" Ostrovsky, nightlife photographer Kirill Bichutsky, and Vine star Brittany Furlan.

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