UK TV review: Framing Britney Spears
Ivan Radford | On 22, Feb 2021
“Name something Britney Spears has lost in the past year.” That was a genuine question on US TV gameshow Family Feud, with possible answers including “her hair” and “her mind”. That this kind of scrutiny, mockery and treatment of a young female pop star was so normalised almost seems unthinkable today, and yet that’s what Framing Britney Spears really brings home in an eye-opening, thought-provoking 90 minutes.
The documentary is primarily an exploration of the legal battle surrounding the superstar’s controversial conservatorship, which has given her father, Jamie, control over her finances for many years. This has led to a #FreeBritney fan movement, campaigning for the conservatorship to be lifted and examining her social media posts for coded messages hinting that she wants to be free.
There is, perhaps inevitably, no concrete answer to what’s actually going on, although we do hear that Jamie once boasted that his daughter was so rich that she was going to get him a boat. That leaves the film primarily collating the information that is already out there and known. But what director Samantha Stark does achieve that’s more lingering is piecing together a portrait of the systemic sexism that Britney and other female pop stars have had to experience.
The film is an unflinching depiction of the ruthless victimisation of Spears, and the footage of countless TV appearances and interviews is alarming, from the 10-year-old starlet being jokingly asked out by a sixty-something host to questions about sex and tabloid headlines that greeted her decision to shave her head – prompting her to be involuntarily commuted to a psychiatric ward in 2008. One industry veteran notes that none of them boybands they have worked with have never been give such exhaustive scrutiny in the media. When Britney says in one clip of a rehearsal that “I am not a diva, I just know what I want”, you believe her.
The film takes us up to the present day, but just before Jamie Spears objecting to an order that made Bessemer Trust Co a co-conservator of Britney’s as of last November – an objection that a judge has overruled. It ends noting that the filmmaking team reached out to Spears but that it was unclear whether their message had even reached her. In a way, that silence only adds to the chilling reality of a life lived – until recently – in full public view.
Framing Britney Spears is available on Sky Documentaries. Don’t have Sky? You can also stream it live and on-demand legally on NOW TV, for £9.99 a month, with no contract and a 7-day free trial.