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“Framing Britney Spears” Exposes the Media’s Mark on an Icon

On Feb. 5, The New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears was released on FX and Hulu. The 75-minute documentary covers the topic of Britney’s conservatorship as well as her experience being mistreated by the media. Framing Britney Spears came just two years after the #freebrittany movement, a movement that began in 2019 as a result of Brittany’s father Jamie Spears’ conservatorship over her becoming public knowledge. Defined by California state law, this conservatorship means that Jamie is in charge of everything from Britney’s estate and finances to the vast majority of her personal and career-related affairs.

Britney Spears on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine in 1999 ©1999 L. Busacca

According to the documentary, Britney’s conservatorship with her father began back in 2008, soon after the pop singer went through a mental health crisis mutually brought on and inflated by the media. While the pop-singer did indeed have an anxiety disorder as well as suffer from depression, the media blew her crisis way out of proportion for their own monetary benefit. Magazines and news programs across the country used Britney’s struggle as a selling point and a way to boost ratings.

This mistreatment, which largely included sexism, began in Britney’s late teens as she quickly rose to fame. During that time, she dated Justin Timberlake on-and-off from 1999-2002. Things got messy towards the end of their relationship when Timberlake began detailing their sex life to the media. Aside from being in bad taste and overtly sexist, these comments hurt Britney’s career while Justin’s flourished.

On Feb. 13, Timberlake took to instagram to apologize for the way he spoke in regards to both Britney and Janet Jackson. Similar to what happened with Britney, Justin made a statement on behalf of Janet that nearly destroyed her career while his once again prospered.

The documentary additionally clips part of an interview Britney did with Diane Sawyer in 2003 where Sawyer made her cry on camera. Throughout the 43-minute interview, Sawyer spoke to Britney and asked a number of difficult questions. She consistently asked about her outfits and seemed to shame her for beliefs and opinions.

Britney Spears at the Billboard music awards in 2016 © 2016 Lester Cohen/BBMA2016

Also featured in Framing Britney Spears, is an interview with Matt Lauer dating back to 2006, during Spear’s infamous 3-year custody battle with ex-husband Kevin Federline. Lauer told Britney during the interview that many Americans view her as a “bad mother.” This caused Britney to once again break down and cry.

Evidenced by videos and photographs dug up by The New York Times, what most didn't see at the time, was just how invasive the press and paparazzi truly were towards Britney and her young children. Britney claimed in the interview with Lauer that she just wants to be seen as a normal and responsible mother. However, it is made clear by the way her life was going and her unimaginable level of fame that parenting was extremely difficult for Britney—she couldn’t get a break from the spotlight. A former friend of Britney’s also stated in an interview that she believes Britney may have been suffering from postpartum depression at the time—which is something the media neglected to recognize.

On Feb. 9, four days after the release of Framing Britney Spears, Britney addressed the film and the speculation around her conservatorship on Instagram. She posted a video of a performance she did 3 years ago to her hit single “Toxic.” In the caption she wrote, “I love simply enjoying the basics of everyday life !!!! Each person has their story and their take on other people’s stories !!!! We all have so many bright, beautiful lives !!! Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person's life it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens !!!!!”

At the moment it is still unknown whether or not Britney's conservatorship will be terminated, however, the case has been re-opened as a direct result of The New York Times project. Britney and Jamie’s next hearing on the issue is scheduled for March 17. Stay tuned for more updates. For now, we wish Britney and her fans all the best.

The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears is available to stream on Hulu.


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