Over the weekend, The New York Times released Framing Britney Spears, a confronting documentary that traces the artist’s life from her days on The Mickey Mouse Club to the current concern and mystery surrounding her conservatorship. It’s a lot, to say the least.
The New York Times combined archival footage with interviews, and spoke to lawyers, former paparazzi, and close friends – people who had, in some way, played a part in Britney’s story, good or bad.
It also examined the tabloid media and television’s obsession with Britney during the late 1990s and 2000s, reaffirming just how poorly she was treated by both the media and society, who gobbled the headlines up.
Here are 10 moments from the documentary that I just can’t stop thinking about.
First, the conservatorship
The opening minutes of the doco are dedicated to the #FreeBritney movement, which demands an end to the singer’s conservatorship.
Following concerns over her mental wellbeing, Britney was placed under a conservatorship in 2008. It’s basically a legal guardianship, where a judge appoints an individual or organisation (the conservator) to care for another adult who is deemed unfit to care for themselves or their finances (the conservatee).
Conservatorships are usually designed for the elderly, who are no longer able to manage their own affairs.
The singer’s father, Jamie Spears, has been her co-conservator since 2008, becoming sole conservator after attorney Andrew Wallet resigned from his role in 2019. During that same year, Jamie briefly stepped down from the position due to personal health reasons and Britney’s care manager Jodi Montgomery stood in as temporary conservator.
Jamie and Britney Spears aren’t close
Liz Day, senior editor of The New York Times, said Jamie wasn’t a “big presence” in Britney’s life when she was young. He apparently struggled with alcohol and was often between jobs.
Kim Kaiman, the former marketing director at Jive Records, only met Jamie once when she worked with Britney.
“Her mother would do whatever it took personally and for the family’s sake, for Britney to be a star,” Kaiman said.
“Lynne supported Britney. I want to say Lynne because I never talked to her father. The only thing Jamie ever said to me was, ‘My daughter is going to be so rich, she’s going to buy me a boat.’ That’s all I’m going to say about Jamie.”
Britney tried to hire her own lawyer when the conservatorship was first being put together
Adam Streisand, a lawyer who specialises in conservatorship, met with Britney when her father was first trying to establish the conservatorship.
This was after Britney had been placed under a 72-hour involuntary lockdown for a mental evaluation after she locked herself in a room with one of her children, refusing to let her ex-husband, Kevin Federline take him.
Streisand admitted that he felt sceptical at first about representing Britney, believing that she wasn’t capable enough to accept or direct legal counsel. But he was wrong.
“Britney was able to make the judgement, ‘Hey I get what’s going on, I get I’m not going to be able to resist this conservatorship, or avoid this conservatorship,’ so that’s a pretty sound judgement,” he told the New York Times.
Right from the very beginning, Streisand said that Britney didn’t want her father to be conservator.
“She said, ‘I don’t want my father to be the conservator.’ That was her one request. She wanted a professional, somebody independent.”
A judge later dismissed Streisand, opting to appoint someone else to represent Britney, as they did not believe she was capable of retaining or directing counsel on her own.
The court appointed lawyer Samuel D. Ingham III as Britney’s counsel instead.
The media was so fucking terrible to her
In 1992, a 10-year-old Britney competed in a singing show and absolutely smashed it.
The host, Ed McMahon, praised her performance and then asked her if she had a boyfriend.
Britney said no and that boys are mean, because she’s 10 years old. McMahon, a man in his 60s, replied, “I’m not mean, how about me?”
In another interview, the presenter asked an older Britney about her “breasts”. One journalists asked her if she was a virgin.
At one point, the doco cuts to an interview with Aussie TV presenter Mike Munro, who told Spears: “You are a contradiction. On the one hand you’re a sweet, innocent virginal type, on the other hand you’re a sexy vamp in underwear.”
Justin Timberlake sucks
Britney’s relationship with Justin Timberlake was the stuff of tabloid dreams, and when the pair broke up, the media turned on Britney even more. They slut-shamed her endlessly, and Timberlake played into it to advance his solo career.
He took control of the narrative, making it seem like he was the heartbroken one. In his music video for ‘Cry Me A River’, he cast a woman who looked like Britney.
“The way that people treated her, to be very high school about it, was like she was the school slut and he was the school quarterback and he essentially weaponises the videos to one of his singles to incriminate her in the demise of the relationship,” Wesley Morris, the New York Times critic-at-large, said.
“Her image was being painted as, ‘Oh, what did you do to cause the breakup. You must have done something. Not him,'” Kevin Tancharoen, Britney’s former backup dancer and tour director said.
During an appearance on Star and Buckwild Morning Show, Timberlake was asked: “Did you fuck Britney Spears?”
“Okay, I did!” he answered, laughing.
The New York Times Presents Framing Britney Spears.
The fucked Family Feud question
By early 2008, after everything Britney had already gone through, she became the punchline of jokes in headlines and on TV.
During an episode of Family Feud, contestants were asked to “name something Britney Spears has lost in the past year.”
Answers included “hair”, “husband”, and “her mind”.
The New York Times Presents Framing Britney Spears.
What the actual fuck?
Kendall Ehrlich says she would shoot Britney if she could
At an anti-domestic violence conference in 2003, Kendall Ehrlich – the wife of Maryland’s governor at the time – said the words: “Really, if I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would.”
She thought Britney was a bad influence and suggested that domestic violence could be avoided if the entertainment industry provided “better role models.”
Again, what the actual fuck?
The Britney’s Gram Podcast
There is a strong belief within the #FreeBritney movement that the singer has been using her Instagram to share coded messages with her followers. They believe her “cryptic” posts are cries for help.
It’s a huge thing, there’s even a podcast about it called Britney’s Gram, hosted by Babs Gray and Tess Barker.
“Britney’s Instagram was just something that was really fascinating to us, we would share her posts and just wonder what they were all about,” Gray said.
Britney cancels her second Las Vegas residency
In October 2018, Britney was slated to announce her second Las Vegas residency, Domination. As part of the announcement, Britney was supposed to perform a few songs and then take part in a couple of interviews. But when the time came, Britney appeared on-stage and then walked straight into her limo without saying a word.
Eleven weeks later, in January 2019, Britney officially canceled her residency. And then she just disappeared from social media for around three months. When she did eventually return to her platforms, TMZ reported that Britney had checked herself into a residential mental health facility.
Soon after that, the podcast received an anonymous voicemail from a ‘paralegal’ claiming to have knowledge of Britney’s conservatorship. He claimed Britney had been forced into the mental heath facility and had been there since mid-January.
For the record, the New York Times couldn’t verify the ‘paralegal’s claims.
Gray and Barker shared the voicemail on their podcast and it went viral, reigniting the #FreeBritney movement.
Britney appears to acknowledge the #FreeBritney movement
In August 2020, when Britney filed a document requesting the removal of her father as conservator, she seemingly acknowledged #FreeBritney when she thanked her fans for their support.
“At this point in her life, when she is trying to regain some measure of personal autonomy, Britney welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans,” the document read.
“Britney herself is vehemently opposed to this effort by her father to keep her legal struggle hidden away in the closet as a family secret.
“In this case, it is not an exaggeration to say that the whole world is watching.”