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Director Samantha Stark on ‘Framing Britney Spears’

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At 39, Britney Spears remains stuck in a court-sanctioned guardianship controlling much of her life and fortune.

Samantha Stark, Director of New York Times documentary Coaching Britney Spears spoke with Jim Mora about the pop star’s battle for control of his estate, the #FreeBritney movement, and a public apology to Spears from other stars.

Photo: Samantha Stark New York Times / Britney Spears – Creative Commons

Formerly known as the Princess of Pop, the star rose to fame over 20 years ago, has sold over 100 million albums, was twice the world’s highest-paid female artist, and her perfume alone grossed over a billion and a half dollars. in sales.

She was a child star and known for her songs that sounded cute, but had a degree of honesty that was immensely appealing to her largely teenage fan base.

But for more than a dozen years, American courts have subjected her to guardianship, a kind of legal guardianship, which limits her in almost every aspect of her life.

The new documentary follows the deterioration of Spear’s reputation, her legal battle with her father over guardianship, and examines the intense, ridiculed, shameful and ever-present paparazzi she was subjected to as she struggled to cope with the fame and motherhood. He asks if the sensational headlines around his supposed public meltdowns and mental health issues tell something like the whole story.

Following the documentary’s release, Spears’ ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake and MTV host Sarah Silverman issued a public apology for their treatment of Spears. Stark is elated, but says there is a need to rethink “a whole system” that has at times undoubtedly persecuted the pop star, and that big questions remain about guardianship.

Britney Spears album cover: Britney.

Britney album cover
Photo: Provided

“Everyone I spoke to who was involved with Britney early in her career said the biggest myth was that Britney was a puppet and just did what the older male executives told her to do. Everyone told me that she was really in control as a Teenager, she was very creative and influential in her image, what her songs were like, what her music videos were like.

“Chronologically, we watch that control wane, to the point where she is now where someone else makes all of the basic decisions in her life for her, including what her medical care is and where her money is going. “

The degree to which Spears’ life has been controlled by the Guardianship over the past 13 years is “shocking,” she said.

“It’s this unique legal arrangement where a person is found to be incapable of making decisions in their own best interests, and therefore the court assigns someone else to legally make those decisions for them. This is usually for the elderly or people with dementia, people who can be taken advantage of.

“With Britney, it’s really strange, there is this great mystery and this contradiction: since she has been under supervision, she has recorded albums, toured, she has been a judge judging other people on The X Factor and she had one of the most successful Los Angeles residences in history, grossing millions of dollars, and at the same time we are told that she is unable to make very basic decisions about her life. .. so that doesn’t seem to add up, and I think that’s what fascinates everyone. a lot of people on this. “

Stark says many court files on the guardianship are sealed to the public, many because they contain private medical information, and it has been frustrating trying to uncover more information on why he was put in. place and stay in place.

“We found that they could restrict who visits and interacts with Britney, so this very close circle of people was made possible by the Guardianship. So, as reporters, we can’t reach Britney, we can’t ask her what she’s feeling. “

“How is a person who earns millions of dollars unable to choose his own health care and who visits him?” It just feels like whatever Britney’s diagnosis … and to be clear, we don’t even know if Britney has a mental health diagnosis, a lot of people are assuming and speculating, but these are medical records, they are sealed.

Supporters hold signs during a court hearing for the Britney Spears Conservatorship in Los Angeles this month.

Protesters hold signs during a court hearing at the Britney Spears Conservatorship in Los Angeles this month.
Photo: AFP

Stark says a former custodian of Spears’ estate, who has now resigned, previously described the guardianship as a “hybrid business model” in court documents.

“It’s such an extreme thing that takes away people’s rights … and it’s meant to be a last resort, and there’s no clear way out of it, it seems. So we’re really looking at the system. . ”

Guardianship costs Spears more than a million dollars a year, says Stark, “On legal fees and guardianship fees, that’s outside of his personal expenses and child support costs.

And to fight guardianship “Britney pays for her own lawyer that she did not choose, to fight against her father’s lawyer for whom she also pays for what is in her own interest, and that is like it’s okay everyone gets paid and it feels like a lot of this system is based on trust and personal responsibility, that there is so much room for abuse, ”she said.

Britney Spears arrives for a Hollywood film premiere in 2019.

Britney Spears arriving at a Hollywood Film Premiere in 2019.
Photo: AFP

Stark also wants viewers to question the way we see and judge stars, and how we consume media.

The title Framing Britney Spears alludes to media images that she believes left lasting innuendos about Spears in the public consciousness; specifically photos of the star shaving her head and holding an umbrella to crash into a paparazzi car.

“I feel like these two images really affected Britney, and continue to affect her because people watch a headline that says ‘Britney’s Collapse’ and assume what they see is what s. ‘happened.

“So we wanted to get out of those frames and show you the real story. Britney was going through a custody battle at this point, and her mother wrote in her book that she thought Britney was suffering from postpartum depression, she was going through a divorce, a group of 60 to 100 men, mostly men, follows her wherever she goes and literally gets in her way, so she has to negotiate and flirt with them to get them out of her way – and … would be illegal if someone did that to you .

“We wanted … to face our own guilt because the reasons these photographs were selling and the reasons these paparazzi could make so much money, was because we all bought the magazines and bought the stories. “

Stark says that the early sexualization of Spears’ image and misogynistic attitudes towards him were no doubt accepted in a way that may not be so easily accepted now. But she also says the image is not black and white, as Spears herself has argued that she should be entitled to freedom of sexual expression.

“One of the reasons she’s been so successful is because she captured this dichotomy of a teenage girl who wants to be sexy but is also a kid, and to think Britney had no agency in this area. and that it was not real also harms her as a strong person.

“You see her fighting so much, which I think is not often included in her story.

A recent post on the star’s social media stated that Spears was making his own documentary.

But “we don’t know if everything that is written on her social media is from her,” Stark says.

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