At the start of this year, like a lot of us, deep into our third lockdown and even deeper into the long British winter, I watched Framing Britney Spears, the documentary that really brought home the nature of the star’s conservatorship. I wrote about the duty of care we should extend towards celebrities, and how quickly we tear them down (especially women) when they so much as slip on their pedestal.
As much as I don’t – and didn’t – agree with the conservatorship while watching the documentary, I will also admit that I wasn’t completely convinced that the situation was quite as bad as the stringent #FreeBritney fans were making out. Britney had made statements saying she was OK and, even though I thought that the fans’ concern was justified, I wondered if they had exaggerated it in their adoration of her.
I’m both saddened and relieved to say that after Britney’s statement in a California court yesterday, I was wrong. Saddened because it means that Britney really has been living through some sort of dystopian Handmaids Tale for the best part of the last 13 years, and relieved because hopefully her speaking out is the beginning of the end of this period of her life.
While this is a truly dark story, it’s also true that when Britney made her statement yesterday, news channels were interviewing fans camped outside the court in support – she wasn’t even in the building – and if we can find one very small silver lining in this whole ordeal, it’s in the power of her supporters. The #FreeBritney movement is a grassroots one, started by concerned fans who came to believe that the star wasn’t being treated fairly. Various supporters formed groups that culminated in a global #FreeBritney movement.
Tess Barker and Barbara Gray, the hosts of the Britney’s Gram podcast, where they talk about the star’s Instagram account, were featured in the Framing Britney doc. They explained how they originally started the show purely as a fan pod about Britney’s social media, but slowly began to suspect that something was awry with her conservatorship. They were then thrust into the eye of the storm after receiving an anonymous phone call from someone who claimed to be a former paralegal who had worked on Britney’s situation. “What is happening,” the caller claimed, “is… disturbing to say the least.” Gray and Barker released the episode in 2019 and the #FreeBritney movement grew exponentially.
The hosts claimed to have confirmed the identity of the mystery caller, but their evidence was still disputed in the media, and Framing Britney Spears was criticised for being biased and selective on the footage and viewpoints it featured.
In Britney’s statement, made to the court via telephone court yesterday, she said, among many other things: “I have a IUD inside of myself right now so I don’t get pregnant. I wanted to take the IUD out so I could start trying to have another baby. But this so-called team won’t let me go to the doctor to take it out because they don’t want me to have [any more] children.” She added: “I should be able to sue them for threatening me and saying if I don’t go and do these meetings twice a week, ‘We can’t let you have your money’.”
The full statement is as scary as it is sad, and the fact that this has been allowed to happen for the past 13 years – to one of the most famous women in the world – throws up the question of how many anonymous people are being held in similarly unescapable conditions, as well as whether or not a change in American law needs to be brought about.
There’s no doubt that we haven’t heard the half of Britney’s story, and perhaps we will never hear the truth, but the purest thing about this saga is the way that her justice was encouraged and – perhaps, to some extent – brought about by her loyal fans. They wait outside the courts, attend the rallies, analyse her messages and look past what they were told repeatedly by the media and the courts.
Stars often say they would be nothing without their fans, which of course isn’t quite true, but perhaps Britney’s fans have ensured that she will soon be something she hasn’t been since 2008. Perhaps she will be free.