EXPLAINER: Should we #FreeBritney… or liberate her?

By Nontshi Shange

In 1998 Britney Spears released her debut single, Baby One More Time, at the age of just 16. Nearly ten years later, in 2007, Britney Spears had her infamous meltdown. More than 20 years later, in 2021, calls are growing for Britney Spears to be liberated from the financial prison she’s in.

It’s all thanks to a new documentary by The New York Times and Hulu, Framing Britney Spears, the pop star’s suffering is finally getting the attention it deserves. 

Like so many teen idols of the early 2000s, such as Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Hillary Duff, Britney Spears was a victim of the voyeuristic tabloid media, which shamelessly curated her rise to infamy, in microscopic detail. While many of her peers escaped those years with the promise of a new narrative, Britney has remained in purgatory – neither fully an adult nor a teen idol. Since 2008, she has been under the conservatorship of her father, Jamie Spears, who controls Britney’s finances, along with the other party appointed by the court.

Samuel D Ingham III, Britney Spears’ attorney, told a judge in November 2020 that the songstress is afraid of her father. In 2020 Britney attempted to have him removed from his role as her conservator, but lost the court battle. What followed after was an uproar from Spears’ fans, who began the #FreeBritney movement. These fans believed that Britney is literally being held against her will, and is her management and record label’s puppet. 

Britney’s dad recently attempted to gain sole conservatorship, but a judge ruled against this on 11 February 2021. This process is usually reserved for the elderly or those with dementia. But Britany is 39 years old, has released several albums since 2008, and was performing sold-out shows for her Las Vegas residency just two years ago before she announced she would no longer be performing until her father is no longer her conservator. She posted on her Instagram, “I am taking the time to learn and be a normal person,” when reflecting on her hiatus from performing. 

Before the instant access social media provides us, the paparazzi gave us our look into the lives of celebrities whether they had their consent or not. In the case of Britney Spears, the jury is still out on whether or not she will gain financial freedom, but her road to redemption has opened up a larger conversation about the way celebrities, especially women, are treated by the media. Justin Timberlake apologised to Spears and Janet Jackson for the role he played in their perpetuating the misogyny that played out in the media, in no small part thanks to the #FreeBritney movement. 

In the words of Britney Jean herself, “Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s, life it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens.”

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