Let’s spill the pop-culture tea: ‘Framing Britney Spears’ documentary is an exposé of media sexism

5 signs stating, "Don't frame the fantasy!", "#FreeBritney!", "Framing Britney Spears", "Her Freedom is His Paycheck!" and "Investigate"
(Selena Lopez • The Student Life)

Was the young starlet saved from her media meltdown by her caring dad, or was she trapped and manipulated by her greedy father? Hulu’s “Framing Britney Spears” unpacks the problems with her conservatorship, her family and the sexist treatment of her by tabloids and interviewers, but it simultaneously perpetuates the cycle of profiting off of Spears’ personal traumas — a pattern started by the entertainment industry the documentary is supposedly criticizing. 

The film tracks Spears’ beginning as a bubbly small-town girl from Kentwood, Louisiana, the heart of the “Bible Belt” of America, her rise to stardom and her downward spiral into mental health and substance abuse issues.

The documentary’s use of paparazzi interviews and written coverage allowed viewers to understand how the invasive nature of the media led to Spears’s downfall in the eyes of the public. The way Spears was criticized for owning her sexuality and being risque has become typical for the misogynistic media industry. Her ex-beau Justin Timberlake was complicit in allowing Spears to be villainized, hiring a Spears lookalike to play her in the “Cry Me a River” music video and gloating about having sex with Spears

As laid out in “Framing Britney Spears,” the media lauded Timberlake and labeled Spears a heartless cheater. However, after the documentary aired, Timberlake issued an apology. While it may be too little too late, that the documentary is starting a dialogue around media sexism and the double standard for female pop stars is valuable in itself. 

It was after these incidents culminated in 2007 when she was placed into the mandatory conservatorship she remains under to this day. According to the documentary, her father, Jamie Spears, controls her finances and day-to-day life. “Framing Britney Spears” clearly pushes the narrative that the conservatorship is too restrictive and that Spears’ father is corrupt, an angle that aligns with most fan theories

While the information “Framing Britney Spears” presents is factual, I felt the documentary was consistently slanted to make Jamie Spears look malicious and did not examine things from his potential perspective.

By mainly using interviews from people on the outskirts who are skeptical of the conservatorship and critical of Jamie, the audience is urged to distrust him and his role as a caretaker. In the documentary, Spears’ old record producer describes her father as having once said, “My daughter’s going to be so rich she’s going to buy me a boat.” 

When describing the conservatorship recently, Spears’ family described it as a business model. The intended purpose of a conservatorship is to care for someone who cannot take care of themselves, and Spears has released a number of albums, performed extensively and continued her role as a public figure since her very public meltdown. After finishing “Framing Britney Spears,” I was left unsure whether Spears’ father is trying to protect his daughter and her mental and physical health or if he is controlling her for his own financial gain.

At the time of what largely was called a “breakdown” in 2007, Spears was reported to be suffering from deteriorating mental health and a substance abuse issue. However, as she continued to perform and has now amassed a net worth of $60 million, Spears is taking her father to court to try and renegotiate her conservatorship.

When Britney started posting worrying captions and memes, conspiracy theories — led by the podcast “Britney’s Gram” — began cropping up that posts hid messages of a suffocating conservatorship. When the podcast hosts received an alleged voice message detailing Spears’ involuntary stay at a psychiatric ward, the #FreeBritney movement took off. People made signs and protested in front of the courthouse, trended #FreeBritney on social media, and raised awareness about her legal situation. 

The last question that remains is whether or not this documentary is simply perpetuating the cycle of profiting off of Spears’ personal traumas. There is undeniably a sense that the documentary is dramatizing Spears and her life, especially seen in the use of interviews slanted in her defense. Even so, it ultimately raises awareness of the ways the media has sexualized and mistreated her — Timberlake’s apology shows this — as well as the current legal battle Spears is in with her father and her team. 

As a Spears fan and a woman living in the age of social media, I hope to see women no longer being boxed in. Women should be encouraged to explore their sexuality freely and express themselves without fear of the same debilitating criticism placed on Spears.

Anna Tolkien CM ’24 is one of TSL’s pop culture columnists. She’s a media studies and literature dual major and loves her pugs, iced coffee and Timothée Chalamet movies.

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