Framing Britney Spears landed on screens this week. The New York Times-produced documentary sheds light on the conservatorship Britney Spears is under, her most troubled years and the Free Britney campaign, which has been driven by devoted fans of the pop superstar.
There has been no shortage of coverage of the highs and lows of Spears, 39. However, the documentary appears to lift the lid on the ways she was let down by those closest to her, the media and the public.
The She's So Lucky singer has been living under conservatorship since 2008, after she was hospitalised and placed in involuntary psychiatric hold.
Spears shot to fame in October 1998, aged 16, when Baby One More Time topped charts around the world.
Less than a decade later, in January 2008, she was placed under a conservatorship led by her father, Jamie Spears, which gave him complete control of her assets, along with lawyer Andrew Wallet.
"She accepted that the conservatorship was going to happen, but she didn't want her father to be conservator," American lawyer Adam Streisand says in Framing Britney Spears.
The agreement has been altered since. In March 2019, Wallet voluntarily resigned as her co-conservator after 11 years. He resigned two months after Spears went on an "indefinite work hiatus".
In January 2019, Jamie Spears suffered a colon rupture and later temporarily stepped aside from the role that gave him power over her life decisions, while keeping his control over his daughter's finances. In September 2019, the singer's care manager, Jodi Montgomery, temporarily replaced her father as her conservator.
In August 2020, a court extended the arrangement with Montgomery until February 2021. This was a matter of days after Jamie Spears branded the Free Britney movement "a joke".
“Britney is strongly opposed to Jamie’s return as conservator of her person,” a court document from August 2020 states.
Conservatorship confusion from people close to Britney Spears
The documentary interviews a number of people close to the singer and “re-examines her career and offers a new assessment of the movement rallying against her court-mandated conservatorship, capturing the unsavoury dimensions of the American pop-star machine,” according to promotional material.
A key voice in the documentary is Felicia Culotta, Spears' friend and former personal assistant. Culotta claims to have known Spears since she was 5 years old.
Culotta says: "To be honest, I didn’t then nor do I now understand what a conservatorship is, especially for somebody Britney’s age and somebody capable of so much that I know firsthand she’s capable of."
Marketing executive Kim Kaiman, who worked with Spears 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."
Justin Timberlake's role
As well as casting a harsh light on her father, the documentary also scrutinises her relationship with Justin Timberlake. Since the documentary first aired, many have called for an apology from the former *Nsync singer.
Spears and Timberlake dated from June 1999 to March 2002, and the documentary argues that the Cry Me a River singer "weaponised" their break-up, forcing Spears 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 Spears. Timberlake laughs them away instead of shutting down.
#FreeBritney – celebrity reaction
Since the documentary first aired on FX and Hulu on Saturday, February 6, a number of celebrities have tweeted their reactions, mainly using the #freeBritney hashtag.
On Saturday, February 7, "We are sorry Britney" trended on Twitter.
One of the first stars to voice their support was country singer, Kacey Musgraves.
"Everyone should watch the NY Times documentary on @britneyspears that just came out," Musgraves wrote on Instagram. "Never has one person been so used and abandoned by every facet around her. My heart goes out to her. She has always been such an inspiration to me my whole kid / teen life. Wish she could get a re-do."
The sentiment was echoed by Paramore's Hayley Williams, who tweeted: “No artist today would have to endure the literal torture that media / society / utter misogynists inflicted upon her. The mental health awareness conversation, culturally, could never be where it is without the awful price she has paid.”
Sarah Jessica Parker and Meghan McCain simply tweeted: "#FreeBritney".
Courtney Love has also taken to Twitter to show her support, apologising to Spears and thanking the New York Times.