Journalists from The New York Times have created a feature-length documentary called "Framing Britney Spears" that focuses on Britney Spears' 13-year so-called conservatorship by her father Jamie Spears, its underlying factors, as well as the way it has led to a tense court battle in recent years.
Having come into force after the pop icon lost custody of her sons and public nervous breakdown in 2007-2008, the said legal arrangement still applied even after Spears resolved her health issues and famously conducted a series of comebacks while living in Las Vegas, releasing a bunch of albums and even touring the world.
In "Framing Britney Spears", which premiered on Friday, director and producer Samantha Stark set herself a goal to fill in at least some of the gaps about the arrangement and the ongoing court battle. In the most recent development, in August 2020, a Los Angeles court heard Spears' request to end her father's control of her estate, finances, and other issues.
At another hearing in November 2020, her lawyer told the jury the star was scared of her father and would never resume her career while he had power over her dealings.
Stark has spoken about the new documentary with Sky News, outlining their goals:
"Originally we pitched it as a look back at media coverage of Britney".
"A lot of it when you look at it through a 2020 lens - it was 2020 [when the documentary was made] - it's so appalling, misogynistic, surprising that, you know, late-night hosts are making fun of a teenager's breasts. Would we do that today?", she went on.
Conservatorship: the Bigger Picture
However, she remarked, as filming was under way, the conservatorship - shrouded in mystery and in a pile of some non-disclosure agreements - took centre stage in the cinematic venture.
"These court documents dropped where Britney indicated that she didn't want her father in charge of her money anymore. And that was a huge thing", Stark explained.
Stark shared she had spoken to many early insiders along the way, including Kim Kaiman, a former marketing executive at Jive Records, the label Spears was signed to in her early years. Other people she contacted were former stylist Hayley Hill and Kevin Tancharoen, a dancer who directed the star's Onyx Hotel tour.
Most agreed that at the dawn and climax of her career, Spears was very much in control, which makes it possible to explain the odd behaviour in 2007-2008 a bit differently, and not putting it down to some neurological condition.
"Britney was shamed for her sexuality at a very young age", Starks was told, but learned that she would never please everyone. With that understanding came empowerment, the director noted.
"One of the reasons [the documentary] is called Framing Britney Spears is we wanted to know what was outside of those frames and give you a different idea, because I think a lot of people think, 'Oh, she shaved her head, she's crazy'. 'She attacked a paparazzi, she's crazy'".
Stark said she hopes the public will take a chance and reassess Spears as a personality and an artist, with people also looking at the media coverage of the story: "it's so mean-spirited and there was so much glee in her suffering", the director said.
'Indefinite Work Hiatus'
There has never been full certainty as to if she's been under conservatorship involuntarily.
At the beginning of 2019, Spears announced an "indefinite work hiatus", revealing her father had been in hospital and "almost died", noting further:
"It's important to always put your family first", she said in a post on Instagram, adding: "We're all so grateful that he came out of it alive".
Whatever the case, the enigma persisted because she typically refused to speak to journalists.
"Since she entered into this conservatorship in 2008, it's been really hard to interview her", said Stark. "What we've heard is that journalists who interview her do so under watch from her team and it's very regulated... [With] Britney, there's this cone of silence around her".
Hence the mystery: how can anyone so capable, creative, and prolific, given the rarely suspended work on albums and gigs during the comeback, not be allowed to make her own choices? As the media often posted about the conservatorship, her most devoted fans came together on social media to call to #FreeBritney from what they believe are the exploitative circumstances she found herself in.
Stark says that when working on her research, she herself was checking out Spears' Instagram "every day for updates, because it really appears to be the only way she can connect to the world".
"She's not speaking. There's so many people around her... I definitely understand why you would look at her Instagram and want to know what she's thinking. And we don't even know if she controls her Instagram, you know?", she lamented.
Despite many having taken the #FreeBritney movement with a pinch of salt, Stark says Spears' supporters are raising really vital questions about the conservatorship system. "Anytime there's that amount of money to be made, you have to question the motives of everyone close to that person", one interviewee says in the trailer for the documentary.
Spears' fans instantly reacted to the news about the documentary, posting words of praise and support for the singer:
… others shared heartfelt emotions after the viewing, with many admitting it broke their heart.
I’m legit crying over here, Britney Spears deserves so much better, NO BODY seeing Heaven #FramingBritneySpears— EP🖤🇭🇹 (@justsayNinie) February 6, 2021
In early 2008, after losing custody of her two little children, Britney Spears suffered a public breakdown that is believed to have led to the collapse of both her health and career.
She drove recklessly, hit media headlines, shaved her own head, and attacked paparazzi with an umbrella, with the eccentricities leading to her ultimately being admitted to the UCLA Medical Centre's psychiatric hospital in January 2008.
While Spears was in hospital, her father, Jamie, was granted a "temporary conservatorship" that allowed him to control her treatment and daily life. The legal judgment, which is most often used for elderly people with such conditions as dementia, continues to control her personal life and finances to this day – something which Britney's lawyers are trying to challenge in court.