When it premiered in February, director Samantha Stark’s heartbreaking documentary film Framing Britney Spears made us question our perceptions of Y2K’s defining pop star, a woman who was often cruelly and misogynistically reduced to a punchline. Above all, it focused greater scrutiny on the murky conservatorship arrangement that has denied Spears agency over her personal affairs since 2008. As its title suggests, Stark’s follow-up film drills down into how Spears was allegedly controlled while she remained – as she once sang – “an exceptional earner”. The singer’s 248-date Las Vegas residency grossed close to $138 million before it wrapped in December 2019.
The film’s grim revelations – from people once close to the singer – have already made headlines. According to Latisha Yates, her former head of wardrobe, Spears was told she wasn’t allowed to order sushi for a second night in a row because it was “too expensive”. On another occasion, Yates claims she put through a pair of Skechers sneakers as a wardrobe expense because Spears “didn’t have the money” for shoes that would presumably have retailed for around £50. Allegations made by Alex Vlasov, a former employee of Black Box Security, the company reportedly hired by Spears’ father Jamie to protect the singer, are even more abhorrent. According to Vlasov, the firm monitored Spears’ phone calls and text messages by “mirroring” her phone on an iPad and even placed a listening device in her bedroom. Watching these interviews makes the #FreeBritney movement look more vital than ever.
Stark’s film doesn’t just explore how Spears has allegedly been controlled; it also grapples with who exactly has been doing the controlling. Vlasov alleges that Black Box boss Edan Yamini and Robin Thornhill, an employee of Tri Star Sports & Entertainment, which handles Spears’ business management, essentially operated in tandem with the singer’s father. “Jamie, Edan and Robin were basically a part of every step Britney took,” he says chillingly. “Britney could not have someone in the privacy of her house without those three people knowing.” Spears’ longtime friend and assistant Felicia Culotta, who also appeared in Framing Britney Spears, insinuates that the singer’s controllers tried to drive a wedge between them. At the end of the film, Culotta says she no longer has a working number for the singer.
Stark also includes audio footage from Spears’ recent court appearance in which she sounds lucid and coolly furious as she outlines how the conservatorship has hurt her. It’s a reminder that the most important voice in this profoundly sad situation, Spears’ own, is only rarely heard. As with Framing Britney Spears, Stark’s investigation is sometimes thwarted by the fact that various court documents have been sealed, which makes it easy for Jamie’s team to insist that his “record as conservator – and the court’s approval of his actions – speak for themselves”. Controlling Britney Spears also poses a growing ethical dilemma: at this stage, are we simply imposing another tragic narrative on a woman who almost never gets to tell her own story? The conservatorship is up for review again in court today (September 28). After watching this film, you’ll hope Spears gets to share exactly what is on her mind.
‘Controlling Britney Spears’ is available on Sky Documentaries and NOW