“Britney Vs. Spears” helps star out of conservatorship

Rachel Williams

Image courtesy of Stephen Lavoie

The sad truth behind the past 10 years of Britney Spears’ life was revealed in the Netflix documentary Britney Vs Spears. The film, from Rolling Stone journalist Jenny Eliscu and notable documaker Erin Lee Carr, follows international pop singer Britney Spears’s life in conservatorship. A conservatorship is the appointment of a guardian or a protector by a judge to manage their entire life due to old age or physical or mental limitations. The producers’ work on this documentary is unsatisfactory. 

As Eliscu details in the documentary, she has interviewed Spears multiple times throughout her career and felt she had connected with Spears. It is unclear, then, why from the very start, the documentary feels extremely like it is from the perspective of a fan.  

The investigators fail to maintain professionalism as they sit at a table, think out loud, and sift through leaked materials. The whole documentary seems akin to BuzzFeed Unsolved, where hosts Ryan Bergara and Shane Madej would narrate and speculate on unsolved true crime in a comical manner.

Documakers interview relevant figures in Spears’s life and conservatorship, some of which shed great insight on the situation, and others, like the doctor who originally deemed Spears to be in medical need of a conservator, provide absolutely none. 

Most of the people interviewed are people who previously used to work for or with Spears. Her previous assistant and close friend is involved as well as her previous business manager. 

The documentary chronicles Spears’s widely-publicized divorce with Kevin Federline and their custody battle. Admirably, the documakers do not include the infamous 2006 photos of Spears hitting a paparazzi’s car with an umbrella. The documakers also properly highlight the trauma celebrities endure due to complete lack of privacy. 

Spears’s difficulties in court and growing irritation with paparazzi are suspected to cause  mental health decline and trips to the hospital for mental health evaluations. Due to a perceived instability, Spears was placed under conservatorship of person and estate in February 2008, both of which were managed by her father, Jamie Spears. 

The documentary gives numerous demonstrative examples of how limited Spears’s freedom became, like Spears being legally obligated to ask her father for permission to go eat a burger at a fast food restaurant. All the while, Spears goes on several tours and earns millions that benefit everyone involved in her conservatorship except her.

The documentary details Spears’s struggle to escape conservatorship, or at the very least hire an attorney of her own choice who will truly defend her. This is where the documentary becomes slightly less fan-girl and a little more interesting. 

Eliscu reveals that she had secretly met with Spears in a bathroom of a hotel to obtain her signature on legal documents petitioning for Spears’s choice of attorney. This sliver of hope for Spears and her advocates ended with dismissal by the Courts due to questions of the validity of Spears’s signature.

The documentary then reviews the huge amount of public attention gained over Spears’s conservatorship as years went on. The #FreeBritney movement became active and visible, providing defense to Spears in numbers she had never previously received. 

At the end of the documentary, Spears finally receives counsel of her choice and attends a hearing where she speaks out, the audio of which is chillingly played. In her speech, Spears marvels in anger over “the control he [Jamie Spears] had over someone as powerful as me.” 

The choice of the documakers to end on this audio is nice; hearing from Spears herself after 1.5 hours of everyone else speaking is especially impactful. The inclusion of these lines and information on future hearings end the documentary on an empowering note. 

Just one day after the documentary’s release on Netflix, a Los Angeles County judge removed Jamie Spears as conservator after thirteen years. The necessity of Spears’s conservatorship will be considered during a hearing scheduled for November 12th. 

By and large, it seems Spears is on a fast track to freedom after over a decade of conservatorship. Spears has recently said she will not be working in the foreseeable future. This is something to be rejoiced but what the media and documakers fail to effectively communicate is that Spears’s situation is not unique. This is the final nail in the documaker’s coffin.

Over a million Americans are under conservatorships today. Admittedly, some may be appropriate and well managed but there are serious issues in the legal system surrounding the nature of conservatorships. Viewers should have instead been prompted to consider conservatorship as a whole.