'Framing Britney Spears': 7 things we learnt from the 'Free Britney' documentary

Documentary gives an insight into the singer's private struggles

OBERHAUSEN, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 25:  Britney Spears presents her dessous collection 'The Intimate Collection' at CentrO shopping mall on September 25, 2014 in Oberhausen, Germany.  (Photo by Sascha Steinbach/Getty Images)
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The New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears was released this week, giving a harrowing insight into the singer's life under her father Jamie Spears's conservatorship.

The documentary examines her career, the conservatorship she has been under for 13 years since her breakdown in January 2008, the #FreeBritney movement and the mental health issues she has been dealing with.

Here are seven things we learnt from the documentary:

1. Britney Spears is 'scared of her father' 

The documentary begins with the #FreeBritney campaigners, protesting outside of the Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles in August 2020, when the singer made legal moves to end her conservatorship under father, Jamie.

She accepted that the conservatorship was going to happen, but she didn't want her father to be conservator

At the time of filming, it had been in place for 12 years, since January 2008; it has now been in place for 13 years. In September 2019, the singer's care manager, Jodi Montgomery, temporarily replaced her father as her conservator.

A conservatorship, the documentary clearly explains with the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition, is "a person, official, or institution designated to take over and protect the interests of an incompetent; an official charged with the protection of something affecting public welfare and interests".

In the footage, one protester is filmed outside the courthouse, saying: "The judge has not made any decisions yet, but we did want to give you a quick update. Britney has told [her court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D] Ingham, on multiple occasions, that she is scared of her father and that she refuses to work until he is no longer in control of her career."

A young Britney Spears with her father, Jamie Spears and mother Lynne Spears. Instagram / Britney Spears 
A young Britney Spears with her father, Jamie Spears and mother Lynne Spears. Instagram / Britney Spears 

2. Britney Spears photos sold for more than $1 million

The height of Britney's fame was in the early 2000s; a time before smartphones and social media, a time when paparazzi provided the window into a celebrity's life. The singer's mental health issues were very public and the paparazzi profited from documenting her every move. The documentary reveals that at the height of her fame, photos of her could sell for upwards of $1 million.

Brittain Stone, former Us Weekly magazine photographer director, says that the publication would spend $7m to $8m on celebrity photos annually.

LONDON - OCTOBER 25:  Singer Britney Spears leaves The Mandarin Oriental Hotel on October 25, 2003 in West London.  (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
At the height of her fame, paparazzi photos of Britney Spears would fetch upwards of $1 million. In 2006, she told Matt Lauer that it was her 'biggest wish' for the paparazzi to leave her alone. Getty Images 

"Spending millions of dollars on pictures, that just, you know, quintupled the amount of money that was out there, which meant there were a lot more photographers coming in and doing it," Stone says.

The documentary also speaks to industry professionals such as Daniel Ramos, who was a member of the paparazzi from 2004 to 2013.

"It’s hard to get out of [the paparazzi industry] once you start making the kind of money that these guys were making," he says. Later he attempts to justify the paparazzi relationship with her as symbiotic, saying: "It was like she needed us, and we needed her."

The documentary also shows footage of a 2006 interview Britney did with Matt Lauer. Through tears, the singer, then 24 years old, says that having the paparazzi leave her alone was her "biggest wish".

3. Her father has profited from the conservatorship

Framing Britney Spears makes clear how profitable the conservatorship has been for Jamie.

The documentary claims that during her Las Vegas residency, which ran from 2013 to 2017, Britney (or her estate) was earning about $300,000 per show, which amounted to $1m per week. It says that her father took a 1.5 per cent share of all gross profits related to the residency, on top of his $130,000 annual salary, earning approximately an extra $15,000 per week, or $780,000 per year.

4. He was not particularly involved at the start of her career

Former Jive Records executive Kim Kaiman, who worked with Britney at the beginning of her career, also appears in the documentary. She implies that the star's father has only ever been driven by money when it comes to his daughter.

"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,'" Kaiman says. "That’s all I’m [going to] say about Jamie."

Kaiman says that it was the singer's mother, Lynne Spears, who was more hands-on at the beginning of her career.

5. Britney Spears originally wanted a 'professional' to take control 

"She accepted that the conservatorship was going to happen, but she didn’t want her father to be conservator," American lawyer Adam Streisand says. He added that she wanted "a professional" and "somebody independent" to be the conservator to her person and estate.

FILE PHOTO: Jamie Spears, the father of pop singer Britney Spears, talks with two police officers at the entrance of the Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, California, January 4, 2008. REUTERS/Hector Mata/File Photo
Jamie Spears, the father of Britney Spears, talks with two police officers at the entrance of the Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills, California, January 4, 2008. Reuters

6. Her ex-personal assistant speaks about Britney's generosity 

Her friend and former personal assistant Felicia Culotta recalls a story of Britney giving back to her community by handing out $100 bills in her hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana, at Christmas time.

"When she just was getting famous — we were home for Christmas, and she wanted to go get $10,000 in $100 bills, and she just drove through Kentwood and gave out $100 bills," Culotta says. "It wasn’t, 'Hi, I’m Britney Spears.' It was, 'Merry Christmas.'"

7. Justin Timberlake is portrayed as complicit in her downfall 

The couple dated from June 1999 to March 2002, and the documentary argues that the Cry Me a River singer "weaponised" their break-up, forcing Britney to take on the role of villain following their split.

The documentary points to a Barbara Walters interview in particular, in which she asks intimate questions about Britney. Timberlake laughs them away instead of shutting them down.

Since watching the documentary, many fans and members of the #FreeBritney movement have demanded an apology from Timberlake. He has yet to publicly comment.