In one of her best known songs, Britney Spears asks: “Don’t you know that you are toxic?” The line comes from the song “Toxic” (2004) and, judging by the music video, is directed at a friend or ex-lover. Exactly who the American singer was talking about at the time remained unclear, and it doesn’t really matter. Because not only the fictional or non-fictional friend was toxic. Even the pop music industry, including the media hype, did not seem to do the 39-year-old any good and poison her mental health, as the documentary “Framing Britney Spears” clearly shows.
Spears experiences violent sexism
The production of the “New York Times” can now be seen on the streaming provider Amazon Prime and shows Spears’ beginnings in the entertainment industry, her crash in 2008 and the subsequent legal guardianship of her father. Former stylists, lawyers and former confidants of the singer have their say. Her fans, who have been fighting against guardianship for years under the slogan #FreeBritney, are also interviewed.
Spears made history as the first pop icon of the 21st century, selling more than 100 million records worldwide. But in the documentary it becomes clear that her career has been accompanied by intense sexism since the beginning.
It started when she appeared on the Disney show “Mickey Mouse Club” in 1992 – a stepping stone for many superstars – and the host jokingly asked her, “Do you have a boyfriend?” Spears was only ten years old and thought probably not to guys yet. Her former stylist Hayley Hill annoyed comments in the documentary: “Of everything you could have asked her … because what else do you talk about with a woman or a girl ?!”
Timberlake and Spears were “showcase couple”
Several years later in 1998, her relationship with pop star Justin Timberlake became public. Around the same time, Spears’ hit single “Baby One More Time” was released. Wesley Morris, cultural critic of the “New York Times”, calls the couple an “American model couple”. They were popular subjects of the tabloids, fans adored them and wanted to know everything about them. All the worse was the breakup, which triggered a huge media hype in 2002, from which Spears emerged as the culprit. (Timberlake recently apologized for publicly blaming her for the breakup.)
Hayley Hill notes, “I’ve worked with a lot of boy bands and not one of the boys was put to the test.” Indeed, some of the questions Spears had been asked by journalists were pretty ridiculous and outrageous. As can be seen in the documentary, she is asked in interviews about her breasts or whether she is still a virgin. The well-known US journalist Diane Sawyer quasi on the side of Timberlake in an interview with the question: “What did you do?”
“People treated her like we were in school and she was the school bitch,” says Morris. There is a whole infrastructure for misogyny, explains the reporter. “When the time has come in a misogynist world to pillory a woman, a whole machine is ready for it.”
Father makes finances
After giving birth to their second child and divorcing boyfriend Kevin Federline, Spears suffered a breakdown in 2008. Remember the photos of bald Spears hitting a car with an umbrella. But what was pulled through the cocoa at that time, of course, had a serious background. In the documentary, Spears’ mother suggests that her daughter suffered from untreated postnatal depression.
This – coupled with the constant observation by paparazzi – would probably overwhelm everyone.
Since then, Spears has been under a legal guardianship that has been given to her father, Jamie Spears, among others. That is, he makes decisions about their finances and personal affairs. In addition, he earns a lot from his daughter, as he receives a salary as a guardian. The “New York Times” reported in 2016 that he earned the equivalent of around 110,000 euros annually and received an additional 1.5 percent of their gross income from the Las Vegas show.
The father partially resigned from the task in September 2019 for “health reasons”, although he continues to control her finances. Spears’ care manager, Jodi Montgomery, has been looking after her personal affairs ever since. But the singer reportedly applied for a final replacement of her father as guardian in March 2021 – the court’s decision is still pending.
Because these questions remain open: Is a guardianship still justified at all? How long can a woman be denied decisions about her own finances and health? Especially since she is able to look after her two children and have a successful, multi-million dollar career.
Without their point of view
With this documentary, the US newspaper wants to reinterpret Spears’ history – and it manages to do so. “Framing Britney Spears” investigates the misogyny in the Spears case for the first time on film and exposes the guardianship as a source of money for the father. But to what extent this show correctly reflects the singer’s point of view is unclear. Spears did not participate in this production either. So a queasy feeling remains.
Spears seems to have seen parts of the documentary in the meantime. She commented on Instagram in March 2021: “I haven’t quite seen the documentary, but from what I saw of it I was ashamed of the way you portrayed me.” The singer went on to write, “I’ve cried for two weeks and well … I still cry sometimes.” Obviously, she did not find her experience to be fair.
As the filmmakers fade in transparently as a hint, they asked the singer to participate in the project. It is unclear whether the message even got through to Spears. After all, the guardianship regulates the singer’s affairs.
“Framing Britney Spears”, 74 minutes, documentary, director: Samantha Stark, (on Amazon Prime)