‘Free Britney!’ was the rallying cry of Britney Spears’s fans on the street outside Stanley Mosk Courthouse in September 2020. Inside, a hearing was taking place regarding Britney Spears’s conservatorship. For the past 12 years, Britney Spears has been under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears, granting him control over her money, career, and many aspects of her personal life. This ignited fans to start the #FreeBritney Movement, raising awareness surrounding Spears’s lack of freedom and campaigning for the end of her controversial conservatorship.
Framing Britney Spears, a documentary produced by The New York Times, captures the career of Britney Spears, the highs and the lows of her fame, and investigates the conservatorship she is currently placed under. The documentary chronicles Spears’s rise to fame and subsequent career, starting with her humble roots in the small town of Kentwood, Louisiana, then leading to her becoming a best-selling teen pop sensation with the release of ‘…Baby One More Time’ in 1998.
In a brief 72 minutes, the documentary covers many aspects of Britney Spears’s life in attempting to answer the questions surrounding Spears’s career and conservatorship. The documentary compiles clips and videos of Spears and her family, and assembles interviews with various people, from Spears’s former assistant Felicia Culotta, to the paparazzo who took the infamous picture of Britney hitting a car with an umbrella.
In her journey from small town girl to Princess of Pop, Spears was no stranger to controversy. Director Samantha Stark challenges the central narrative put forward by the media of Spears’s alleged ‘downfall’ in 2007 and attempts to reframe her story. Particularly poignant is how Stark exposes sexism in the media and music industry, including the labelling of Spears as a ‘bad mother’, Justin Timberlake accusing her of cheating on him, and even Spears being questioned by the press about her virginity.
Framing Britney Spears also delves into the complexities of Spears’s conservatorship, pulling up evidence against Jamie Spears through an unverified voicemail from someone allegedly on Jamie Spears’s legal team, and Britney Spears’s legal request to remove her father from her conservatorship.
However, despite Samantha Stark’s attempts to reframe Spears’s narrative, there’s a critical piece of the puzzle missing. Several people declined requests to be involved in the documentary, namely her parents, siblings, lawyer, and most importantly, Britney Spears herself. Without Spears’s contribution, there is only so far the documentary can go in depicting Spears’s true narrative.
Crucially, as lawyer Adam Streisand comments in the documentary: ‘we don’t know what we don’t know’, and unfortunately, until Britney Spears is free, many questions still remain unanswered.