For over 20 years, Britney Spears has been one of the biggest names in pop music. Songs like “Baby One More Time” and “Toxic” sprung Spears into the main zeitgeist and her life seemed picture perfect. What The New York Times documentary “Framing Britney Spears” shows us however is that behind the scenes, Spears’ life has been anything but glamorous.
The main theme of the documentary is Spears and the conservatorship she is under. A conservatorship is when a person is assigned to manage the finances or daily affairs of someone who cannot manage on their own, whether it be because of old age or mental health.
In the case of Spears, she had an infamous breakdown in 2007 which lead to her father Jamie being the conservator of her finances and estate.
Director Samantha Stark does a terrific job of gathering people associated with Spears to talk about the pop star’s career and what lead to her breakdown. One of the most enlightening moments of the movie was the amount of tabloid attention Spears received throughout her life during the 2000s. What starts off as perfectly normal for any celebrity turns into a nightmare not even Hollywood could make up.
It comes as no shock that Spears had a breakdown in 2007, especially given the amount of scrutiny she was facing. What was shocking was seeing the amount of mockery and cheap jokes that were made towards Spears as a result of her breakdown.
Stark made me rethink how mental illness is treated as a joke in America and how vulturism has hijacked the entertainment industry. At one point, a former paparazzi admitted on camera that during 2007, a photo of Spears could go for a million dollars.
The choice to have “Framing Britney Spears” focus on the Free Britney Movement over her career as a whole shows a social awareness Stark has towards Spears’s fanbase and the legal system. What started off a seemingly a meme, has quickly become an organized collection of people wanting to see their childhood icon freed from a toxic conservatorship.
Having clips that highlight Spears’s career demonstrates the degradation Hollywood and her father has done to a once bright-eyed pop star. Editor Geoff O’Brien carefully selected clips and images that tells a story of Spears that would otherwise be lost through gossip and rumors. Seemingly trivial details like Spears’s relationship with pop star Justin Timberlake paint a mosaic of sexism and the added scrutiny Spears faced over something that arguably wasn’t her fault.
It is understandable that neither Spears nor her family was interviewed during the documentary, but the collection of stories told by people formerly in Spears’ circle more than make up for the lack of a direct interview with Spears. Stories range from heart-warming and wholesome to depressing and chilling.
What keeps these stories engaging is the buildup of a narrative that Spears is trapped and needs to be released from her conservatorship. Her background alongside the Free Britney Movement gives viewers a story that not only tells us everything they need to know, but also allows them to wonder what is actually going on in Spears’s life and what hasn’t been released to the public.
“Framing Britney Spears” is a difficult documentary to watch. It will have you re-thinking everything you know about women in music, the role of a conservator and how mental illness is perceived in the media. Seeing a deeper more vulnerable side of Spears was a revelation, especially as someone who saw her as a queen of pop music.
What sets “Framing Britney Spears” apart from other documentaries is the effect it has had since its release on Hulu. Timberlake went on Instagram and apologized to Spears and Janet Jackson for his actions against both women. Any documentary that has a ripple effect like this one deserves to be watched by everyone, even those outside of Spears fanbase.