‘Britney vs Spears’ poster. Picture: Netflix
‘Britney vs Spears’ poster. Picture: Netflix

‘Britney vs Spears’ is a disturbing look at how the popstar’s life was turned into a ‘circus’

By Debashine Thangevelo Time of article published Oct 7, 2021

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Heartbreaking. Abusive. Suffocating. These were some of the words that came to mind when watching the Netflix documentary feature, "Britney vs Spears“.

The timing couldn’t have been better – Britney Spears’s father, James Parnell “Jamie” Spears, was recently suspended as her conservator. This comes on the back of her being placed in conservatorship for the past 13 years.

And the “Toxic” singer has become even more vocal about her families complicity in her conservatorship.

A conservatorship is granted by a court for individuals who are deemed unfit to make their own decisions. It usually pertains to someone with dementia or other mental illnesses.

Since 2008, Spears’s estate and financial affairs were overseen by her father.

People protest in support of pop star Britney Spears on the day of a conservatorship case hearing at Stanley Mosk Courthouse in Los Angeles, California, US, on June 23, 2021. Picture: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

Her recent victory has been celebrated by fans, through the #FreeBritney campaign, and her celebrity supporters of Cher, Dionne Warwick, Vanessa Carlton, Tayshia Adams and others.

In “Britney vs Spears”, a documentary by film-maker Erin Lee Carr and journalist Jenny Eliscu, they piece together a disturbing look at how her rights were abused. They look at how she was stripped of any decision-making, despite being in control of her faculties.

When you think about someone caught between a rock and a hard place, this was where Britney was at.

The one thing that gave her the “independence and freedom” denied to her in real life was performing on stage. It is what she is great at. It is also what she loves.

The documentary kicks off by painting a picture of Britney’s rise as a popstar, with fans chanting her name at a concert. The paparazzi stuck to her like bees to honey.

At 16, she was a global sensation. By 2004, she was one of the biggest-selling artists of her generation.

Fame isn’t without a few pitfalls. And Britney wasn’t impervious to them either as she got swept up in the lifestyle.

Her three-year marriage to Kevin Federline, with whom she has two children, was the start of the end for the superstar, so to speak.

Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. Picture: Steve Marcus/Reuters

Aside from their messy divorce, their bitter custody dispute led to Britney’s meltdown and subsequent hospitalisation.

Shortly thereafter, her father petitioned a Los Angeles court to have his daughter placed under a temporary conservatorship, and it was granted.

But what started out as a temporary arrangement snowballed into a long-term one as he controlled all facets of her life – the time she spent with her kids, the people she surrounded herself with, the work she agreed to and the interviews she could do, based on the questions that were submitted before the time.

What really leaves one gobsmacked is the revelation that she amassed a multimillion-dollar fortune from her performances between 2013 and 2018.

During that time, her dad earned $2.1 million from tour revenues, in addition to his monthly salary of $16 000, while she was on an $8 000 dollar stipend a month.

Meanwhile, there were people close to her dad that cashed in on her fortune.

There is a scene in the documentary where she is giving an interview and she breaks down. She admits to being sad.

Her former assistant, industry friends and manager all spoke about her quality of life with her dad as her conservator, some bravely referring to it as “f****d up”.

With others, though, there was a disconcerting sense of fear of Jamie. It’s not so much that he ruled with an iron fist, it sounded like he wasn’t someone you trifled with.

Singer Britney Spears. Picture: Chiang Ying-ying/AP

In a way, it explains why Britney was unable to get much help for the longest time. Every lifeline extended to her was eventually cut off. All contact with those she was close to, like former manager Osama “Sam” Lufti, was severed. She was isolated.

They tried to get Dr James Edward Spar to comment on the conservatorship and his report on Britney but he refused to go on record or answer any questions about it.

The irony is that she was alone despite being on several tours, including her Las Vegas residency, surrounded by people, doing photoshoots and interview.

The documentary is interwoven with paparazzi footage, several interviews (none of them with her family), and Erin and Jenny trawling through leaked court documents that expose loopholes in the system and her legal counsel more comfortable with staying on their gravy train rather than plead Britney’s case.

Britney pointed out that she was “making a living for so many people and still being told what to do”.

The “I’m a Slave 4 U” singer felt bullied, tired and alone. She pointed out that anyone involved in the conservatorship should be in jail.

If anything, this is one of many more documented offerings to come. Britney is back and the time has finally come for her voice to be heard.

Britney vs Spears” is streaming on Netflix.

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