Hope 'Framing Britney Spears' changes the way we treat women: director Samantha Stark

·5-min read

New Delhi, Mar 18 (PTI) “Framing Britney Spears”, a documentary on the pop star’s traumatic personal life, has led to widespread debate on celebrity lives but director Samantha Stark says her hope is it also prompts introspection on how all women are treated, not just stars.

The reaction to the documentary underscores there is something special about Britney and that people love her so, Stark said while trying to articulate the influence the 39-year-old troubled star has had on the world.

'I think we should think about how we treat all women because watching Britney get treated like that affects us as well. It doesn't just affect her or the other stars,” Stark told PTI from New York in a Zoom interview.

“I'm about the same age as Britney. I remember watching her get made fun of on TV and in the magazines and I think about how that affected me... So I hope it can help change things for regular women as well as stars,' she said.

The critically acclaimed film, which released on February 5 as an edition of The New York Times Presents on FX and FX on Hulu in the US, is available in India on the Discovery+ app.

It captures the dark side of the life of the singing star who burst on the American music scene in in the late 1990s and early 200s. Her personal life has always been under a harsh spotlight – be it her relationship with fellow musician Justin Timberlake, her 55-hour marriage to childhood friend Jason Allen Alexander or her three-year marriage to dancer Kevin Federline with whom she has two sons.

In 2007, the year she got divorced from Federline, Britney shaved her head with electric clippers at a salon in LA as paparazzi photographed her. She admitted herself to a treatment facility after that and later that year lost the custody of her sons.

When Britney refused to relinquish custody of her sons to Federline in January 2008, police had to intervene.

She was later put in an involuntary psychiatric hold under California state law and her father Jamie Spears was appointed by the court as her conservator, a unique legal arrangement that gives someone else complete authority over another person.

Part of the film’s popularity, Stark said, is that the pandemic has made people want to be kinder to each other.

'I think we're all in this place where we never know what another person is going through. Part of the popularity might have to do with that,' she said.

In recent years, Jamie Spears’ conservatorship has attracted negativity among fans of the “Baby One More Time” and “Toxic” singer. They have started a #FreeBritney movement, demanding that she be given control over her life.

Using extensive archival footage and interviews, “Framing Britney Spears” explores the movement before examining the misogynistic way she was treated at the height of her fame. It looks at her run-ins with the paparazzi and her relationships, including with Timberlake who used their break up in his hit song 'Cry Me a River'. Timberlake issued an apology after the documentary aired.

Has the lens changed in the post #MeToo era? 'I think there's something about putting it all together that made you realise how misogynistic it was more than when it's on TV here or there, which is the power of documentary. But all of these interviews and everything we showed in our archival footage was on TV before and no one had this reaction, so I do think that there's a difference,' Stark said in response.

The pop star herself is not a part of the documentary.

'I had a lot of ethical conflicts making this film without Britney participating. And the way I kind of ended up being able to justify it to myself is to never assume what was going on in Britney's head. That was kind of what our team agreed to, that in our editing and even in the way we talked about her, we wouldn't assume what was going on in her head,' the director said.

There is cultural reckoning happening around women who were treated poorly in the '90s and 2000s, and Britney is the biggest name in that sphere, said Stark.

The film was the idea of Liz Day, a senior editor at the New York Times who also appears in it.

“There's kind of this trend here of revisiting women who were treated poorly in the 90s and 2000s -- Monica Lewinsky, Tonya Harding. There was kind of this look back happening and she was like Britney Spears is the ultimate one,” said Stark, referring to White House intern Lewinsky and skater Harding both of whom were the centre of paparazzi curiosity and scandal.

“So we started doing research and got our team together and then we realised that not only was Britney treated misogynistically in media coverage, she's actually in this conservatorship where her father controls all of her money and most of her life, which makes this (documentary) extra meaningful,' Stark added.

The #FreeBritney activists were dismissed as 'conspiracy theorists' by the superstar's father but Stark said those behind the film wanted to take it seriously because it highlighted 'important systemic issues'.

“And now you see there are a lot more people who are really taking it seriously,' she said.

After the documentary aired, the probate judge dismissed objections by Jamie Spears regarding the co-conservatorship arrangement.

Through her court-mandated lawyer, the singer, who is on a work hiatus, has said she no longer wants her father to be in charge of her conservatorship. She wants 'a qualified corporate fiduciary' to handle her estate. PTI BK MIN MIN MIN