By Joey Gibbs
Betrayed by adoration. Betrayed by femininity. Betrayed by whiteness. Young and modest Britney Spears became a global microscope; every single action, sound, and thought was tracked, published, and sold for millions.
We, the insatiable public, simultaneously befriend and make gods out of our stars; our idols. Born and raised in the quaint, poor town of Kentwood, Louisiana, Spears only had her voice and the food on the table. However, as we adulate humble beginnings, we transform into oppressors once the humbleness is out of the image.
An icon ruined by fame, Britney Spears — her life, art and her agency — has been in public speculation for over a decade. Her, her family and her team have been and continue to be dead silent about the conservatorship that has been haunting Spears ever since the release of her sixth studio album “Circus” (2008). “The New York Times Presents,” a series of standalone and rather dramatic documentaries, attempted to defog the air around Spears and her conservatorship in its newest addition entitled, “Framing Britney Spears,” which is streaming on Hulu.
For starters, I am not the biggest fan of that episode title — it sounds rather villainous and exploitative. The documentary acted as a great and accessible tool for people to be made aware of the malignant and clandestine events occurring within the conservatorship. The film also gave spotlight to #FreeBritney, a movement started by dedicated Britney Spears fans who want nothing but the star to have her life back. Supporters of the movement are enthralled by this documentary as it brings validity to the movement.
And as the film reveals, the evil conservatorship is no conspiracy theory. The film also addressed the abhorrent misogyny Spears constantly faced in her career — from her beginnings as the sexy school girl, to her breakdown being portrayed as a worldwide laughing stock. I did feel that the documentary left out some key events in her career, and the pacing left a lot to be desired.
The documentary’s first half explores the rise of Britney Jean — a little girl with a big voice and an even bigger dream. It showcases her family’s struggles with money, her father’s notable absence and struggle with alcohol, and the key figure holding this documentary together — Felicia Culotta. Culotta was on Spears’ arm throughout a bulk of her incredible and tumultuous career — she knew Spears deeply and personally, and her presence to build Spears’s character aids the clarity of the documentary.
We were offered a deep look at the relationships and growth of Spears through her and others insight, instead of the surface-level look or rose-colored one. For example, no source has truly gotten in touch with Spears in the past six or seven years because everything is filtered through her handlers. The documentary presents us with the view of Spears we were force fed; an industry plant who was sex obsessed and trashy. Interviews asking her about breasts and her image, a game show asking its contestants “name one thing Britney Spears lost in the past year” as all the players cheer and jeer at the star’s fall.
No matter how many tears she shed or pleas she gave the paparazzi, they followed her everywhere. One of the men interviewed was Daniel Ramos, the paparazzo whose truck was struck by Spears’s umbrella as he captured her in her most vulnerable state of help. He tried to say how Spears never really had an issue with the paparazzi and desperately tried to exonerate himself; however, as he tried to defend himself, a producer asked if her uttering “please leave me alone” was not enough.
It is about time the public begs for forgiveness and changes it ways after how exposed it was in this documentary, but celebrity culture will always be vulturous and sadistic. The documentary did an excellent job of showing us the true torment and pain the media brought this humble artist, this modest star.
I, as a diehard Britney fan, appreciated the documentary for properly blaming the media and tabloids for their treatment of Spears. However, it left out not only her 2003 annulment, but a cult classic of career, the mad scene of her opera — the 2007 VMAs performance. The reaction to this performance alone embodied hatred and contempt. A clearly suffering woman, stalked by the paparazzi, struggling with losing her children — everyone expected something from her, and the suspension of disbelief made us hate everything she gave us. Not even Chris Crocker’s plea to “leave Britney alone!” appeared in the documentary, with Crocker being a martyr of sharing how celebrities are truly treated. How anyone could laugh at his impassioned — and truthful — cries that the media was essentially killing her is beyond me, and yet he is flushed down as obscure internet history. So many hints throughout the years were tossed away, Spears made so many cries for help that either went up in flames or were tossed aside.
A majority of the documentary was addressing the media and then the last rut was explaining her conservatorship. Highlighting the strained relationship with her father was a smart move and was a good segue to the events today. The documentary brought in Adam Streisand, a trial lawyer who deals with conservatorships. He communicated with Spears and told the New York Times that he felt she was competent enough to not only choose her own lawyers, but to be her own person. She told Streisand, and numerous others as a matter of fact, that she is scared of her father and does not want him to be the conservator. This leads me to believe that Spears is fully aware of the true intentions of the conservators, as she then states she will not work if her father is still in charge.
Her cryptic and odd social media presence is also examined. The visuals were good, yet the information was rather limited. The documentary basically brought up the question that social media could be her giving us signs she needs help, but also that it could be heavily monitored as well. A point subtly addressed was the roses. Visually, the documentary used a lot of roses — a very common emoji used on Britney’s posts is the rose. Could this documentary have been the Project Rose Spears hinted about on her Instagram? Beyond that, it brings up the question — what does the rose truly represent?
The documentary ends inconclusively: no one is sure what will happen next. It shows that Spears’ family refused to participate in the project. It also stated that there were attempts made to reach out to Spears, but nothing ever came of them.
The New York Times crammed a good amount of information into its one hour and change documentary about Spears’s career, reputation, and conservatorship. I would say it is a must watch as a stepping stone into the mess that is her conservatorship. Use this documentary as a lesson one into what the fans and supporters of Spears have figured out by protesting, attending court readings and analyzing any piece of information they can get their hands on.
The legend of Britney Spears lives on and I pray that one day she finds the liberation she yearns for. I hope for her to drop another landmark album and return to her indomitable Las Vegas residency. For now I stay streaming her unparalleled art and eagerly watching recordings of her renowned performances, facing all of my troubles with her empowered moniker and mantra: “it’s Britney, bitch.”