Over the past year, you have likely seen posts with pop star Britney Spears, followed by the tag #freebritney. Spears has been stuck in a conservatorship since 2008, with her father being in charge of Britney’s estate, finances, and her day-to-day decisions. Now the main question is, “how did Britney get here?” This question was unpacked in a documentary titled Framing Britney Spears, which was released by Hulu on February 5th. The documentary focuses on how Britney’s family, friends, fans, and the media contributed to her mental breakdown, and it examines the other events leading up to her conservatorship.
From an early age, Britney was consistently asked by the media about sexual aspects of her life, such as boys, her body, and whether or not she was a virgin. She also faced massive criticism for being too “sexy”, specifically during the Clinton-Lewinsky sex scandal era in 1998. While Spears has spent the vast majority of her professional career being sexualized by reporters and TV hosts across the U.S., she managed to keep a smile on her face despite the unwanted sexual attention.
These same reporters and paparazzi were the eventual cause of her infamous 2007 breakdown. That year, Spears decided to shave her head, claiming that “[She didn’t] want anyone touching [her].” Capitalizing upon her mental decline, paparazzi began to set up “money shots” of Britney during this period. One paparazzo intentionally baited Britney into damaging his car, which he was able to photograph and publicize.
While the media played a major role in Spears public breakdown, her 2007 divorce from Kevin Federline exacerbated the situation. After months of battling, Britney lost custody of her two children and was only granted visitation rights, which were shortly revoked in January of 2008. Shortly after Britney lost her visitation rights, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital following months of publicized turmoil. After being admitted, Britney’s father Jamie Spears became her temporary conservator. Her conservatorship was made permanent in October of 2008, with her father and Andrew Wallet being the co-conservators of her estate.
While Britney knew that the conservatorship was inevitable, her only request was to not have her father be her conservator. Prior to this, Jamie was not involved in Britney’s life. In the early days of the conservatorship, Britney expressed discontent with her situation. “If I wasn’t under the restraints that I’m under right now…with all the lawyers and doctors and people analyzing me every day… I’d feel so liberated and feel like myself,” she lamented. “When I tell them the way I feel, it’s like they hear me, but they’re really not listening. They’re hearing what they want to hear. They’re not really listening to what I’m telling them.”
As social media grew in popularity, so did fans’ concern about the pop princess. Today, many fans claim that she’s been using her social media platforms to signal for help. While these suspicions haven’t been confirmed, in August of 2020 Britney publicly voiced her desire for a change in her conservatorship. She expressed her wishes that a bank should be in charge of her estate instead of her father—until this is accomplished she refuses to work. In November of 2020, Britney was able to receive a co-conservator of her estate, and she will continue to fight until her father is no longer in charge of her estate and career.
While many fans blame Jamie Spears for Britney’s current situation, this documentary affirms that it was primarily the media that got her here. When you consider the years of harassment and criticism that Briney has faced from the media, it’s entirely possible that if it weren’t for the media’s involvement, Britney may not have needed a conservatorship in the first place. A prime example of this was her breakup with Justin Timberlake in 2002. Justin lamented that the breakup was caused by Britney cheating on him with another man, though that wasn’t the truth. Britney always expressed that the breakup was mutual between the two parties; yet, the media was quick to blame her in the downfall of the beloved couple’s relationship. In an interview with Matt Lauer in 2006, Lauer criticized Britney’s parenting decisions, belating her for having her young son on her lap while driving. Britney claimed that it was her only choice to evade the paparazzi who were harassing her, but the damage was done: tabloids jumped at this, targeting how Spears was a “terrible mother.” With the publicity generated by Jamie Spears becoming Britney’s conservator, all conversations about her shifted to her faults, her instability, and her alleged insanity.
Britney Spears is a prime example of how the media benefits from scrutinizing women—Britney is far from the only example. Princess Diana was persecuted by paparazzi up until her death in 1997. Another prominent example is Janet Jackson. Jackson was scrutinized by the media after the “nipplegate” scandal when her breast was briefly exposed during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, despite the fact that Justin Timberlake was responsible for pulling off a part of Jackson’s outfit. While Timberlake has taken responsibility for the incident, Jackson’s career was tanked, and the media has continued to place the blame solely on her.
This documentary opened my eyes to not only Britney’s situation, but to the disturbing amount of women who are dissected by the media on a regular basis: Framing Britney Spears is definitely a documentary to add to your watch list.
Featured image courtesy of Pikara Magazine.