Framing Britney Spears is a full-length documentary from The New York Times Presents series, which focuses on today’s biggest stories. Using interviews with close friends, lawyers, and bystanders and clips from Britney’s personal and public life, the documentary depicts the rise and downfall of Britney Spears and the emergence of the #FreeBritney movement. If you’re not familiar with the movement, fans are seeking to free Britney from a conservatorship run by her father; it was implemented shortly after her public breakdown in 2007. The type of conservatorship that Britney has allows her father to control almost all aspects of her life, including her finances and medical decisions. Britney is currently involved in a court battle to remove her father as conservator and refuses to work until he is no longer in charge of her career.
What I realized while watching this documentary: this conversation around Britney Spears’ conservatorship is really a conversation about women in the public eye. I watched in horror at some of the blatantly sexist and inappropriate questions Britney has been asked in interviews over the years. She was constantly sexualized and criticized by the media, starting when she was only 17. Then, she was blamed for the end of her relationship with Justin Timberlake. Then, she was accused of being a bad mother. Then, she was relentlessly followed by paparazzi and the media while dealing with a painful divorce and custody battle. Then, she finally snapped and was shamed by the industry that caused her breakdown in the first place. The director Samantha Stark does a fantastic job of building to that moment, making viewers feel increasingly anxious as the paparazzi attention and nasty headlines increase.
It occurred to me that I grew up with post-breakdown-Womanizer-Vegas Britney. I had no idea that this was a shell of the person Britney used to be. I remember being aware of the breakdown from a young age, even though it happened when I was only four years old. She was always painted as a crazy person; there were no discussions about mental health that accompanied the photos of a bald, umbrella-wielding Britney Spears. However, I didn’t hear about the conservatorship until last year. Why is that?
This is just one question that Framing Britney asks of its audience. There are so many more themes, thoughts, and questions that can’t fit in one review. Stark successfully sparked a discussion about mental health, fame, sexism, and so much more. I know she was successful because I’ve already seen people having these conversations after watching the documentary. People involved in Britney’s public shaming (Justin Timberlake, journalists, magazines, etc.) are even issuing apologies. I hope Britney can see how her story is impacting everyone and feel the support from her many fans.
I really believe Stark did Britney justice, but, of course, Britney herself can only comment through cryptic Instagram captions at the moment (note: Can we talk about those by the way? I want to analyze them all…). This documentary is genuinely eye-opening, and I truly hope that Britney will enjoy her freedom again soon.