Free Britney: An Explanation of the Movement

By Mary G.

“I feel ganged up on, and I feel bullied, and I feel left out and alone. And I’m tired of feeling alone. I deserve the same rights as anybody does by having a child, a family, any of those things,” Britney Spears said in a June 2021 testimony regarding her conservatorship.

A fan with a sign in support of Britney Spears outside of the court building in California, June 2021. Credit: CNN

Britney Spears is a name the world has known since 1998. Back then, she was famous for her pop songs, dance choreography, and fashion style. Recently, she is associated with her overdue escape from a shackled life of conservatorship

Erin Lee Carr has been a fan of Ms. Spears since her childhood, and journalist Jenny Eliscu had developed a personal connection with the singer while writing for Rolling Stone. In 2021, they banded together and released Britney vs. Spears, an exposing documentary on the injustices of Ms. Spears’ life. They interviewed friends, past and current employees, and family members. The result: public outrage on the treatment of such a talent as Britney Spears.

Incidents leading up to the conservatorship included:

2004: Ms. Spears married her backup dancer Kevin Federline. They had two children together. By 2007, they underwent a brutal divorce due to complications with their prenup. 

2007: Ms. Spears experienced a breakdown. She shaved her head and attacked a paparazzi car with an umbrella, creating some of the most well-known pictures of the year. She was hospitalized and faced scrutiny from the media. 

2008: Ms. Spears had a second breakdown. Police were called to her residence where she locked herself and her child in the bathroom. She refused to give her kids to Mr. Federline’s bodyguard who was sent to collect them in sight of the custody battle. Ms. Spears was checked into a hospital with a second psychiatric stay.

What 'Britney vs Spears' and 'Controlling Britney Spears' Both Reveal : NPR
Britney vs Spears, Erin Lee Carr and Jenny Eliscu’s exposé documentary. Credit: Netflix

On February 1, 2008, Ms. Spears’ father, Jamie Spears, petitioned for a temporary conservatorship over Ms. Spears. 

Britney’s conservatorship consisted of two parts: personal and estate. 

Personal conservatorship instates a person with complete control over the conservatee’s decisions regarding healthcare, who they can or cannot see, and their abilities to communicate on the phone or computer. Jamie Spears held this position

Control over the estate gives control over all of the conservatee’s money. This position was shared between Mr. Spears and Andrew Wallet due to Mr. Spears’ history of financial mismanagement. Tony Chicotel, a conservatorship attorney contacted by the filmmakers, explains a conservatorship should be “only a last resort” (Credit: Britney vs. Spears).

Mr. James Spears was elected as conservator, rather than Ms. Spears’ mother Lynn, due to his “intimidating” stature. During interviews for the documentary, whenever the filmmakers asked about James, the interviewee would shut down entirely. One such case is during an interview with Felicia Culotta, Ms. Spears’ former assistant from 1998 to 2007 and again from 2009 to 2018, when asked about Mr. Spears said “okay, I don’t want to talk about her daddy. I don’t wanna talk about Jamie.” 

Mr. Spears also had a drinking problem, which Britney brought up during her relationship with Jason Trawick. Simply put, she thought if she had to be drug tested, so should he. And if her tests came back negative, and she faced a penalty, the same should be for him. 

From an anonymous source, the filmmakers received a confidential medical report for the court in March 2008. The report stated: Ms. Spears lacked the capacity “to retain and direct counsel” and “to understand or manage her own financial affairs without being subject to undue influence.” Mr. Chicotel says that in all of the conservatorship cases he had worked on, the conservatees almost never had jobs. However, during her conservatorship, Ms. Spears was working on the set of How I Met Your Mother. This trend would continue: she released two CDs, filmed a documentary, completed the Circus tour, judged X-Factor, and held a Vegas performance residency all while under the conservatorship.

Mr. Chicotel also explains that in regular cases, a proposed conservatee is given five-day notice as time to contest the conservatorship. Ms. Spears was not given this opportunity. Ms. Eliscu explains it was because her manager Sam Lutfi was “dangerous and needs to be kept away.” People on Ms. Spears’ team, like Lorilee Craker, believe that Mr. Lutfi was drugging Ms. Spears. However, in an interview with the filmmakers, Mr. Lutfi defends himself by explaining the presence of a number of blood and drug tests coming back negative during their times together. He also points out that with accusations as such, “you call the police, you call the FBI, you don’t call TMZ.” When asked why, then, he was accused of endangering Ms. Spears, he says “I was the perfect scapegoat.” Britney’s team had to get the five-day notice waived because if she had been given it, “she would have obviously contested it immediately.”

In September of 2008, Ms. Spears negotiated a 50/50 split of custody of her kids with Mr. Federline.

Adnan Ghalib was a paparazzo that Ms. Spears had befriended in 2007. Mr. Ghalib remembers when he was out with Ms. Spears and received a call from Mr. Spears demanding they return home. When they did, Mr. Spears, security officers, and police were waiting for them at Ms. Spears’ gate. Mr. Ghalib remembers turning to her and saying “without his [James Spears’] permission, because he is you, I have kidnapped you.” After that, Ms. Spears’ contact with Mr. Ghalib dwindled until there was none.

Ms. Eliscu, while writing for Rolling Stone, recalls having to submit interview questions to Britney’s management before interviewing Britney. This was unusual, as Ms. Elicsu had interviewed her years prior with no such obstacle. 

In 2008, Ms. Spears worked with MTV to create a documentary titled For the Record. Andrew Gallery, a cinematographer for the documentary, had grown close with Ms. Spears over the time shooting. To the filmmakers, he retells a time when Ms. Spears was driven to a stretch of road outside of Los Angeles to drive in her car for 30 minutes. He remembers feeling glad that she could “feel free for a minute,” but recalls the oddity of needing to arrange a 30 minute drive in her own car.

Andrew Gallery, the cinematographer from For the Record, recalls a letter Britney had written in response to a People Magazine article about “Life with Britney” from Mr. Federline’s perspective. In the letter, Britney defended herself. She said that her lawyers forced her to divorce Mr. Federline, her past partying discussed in the article was irrelevant to the situation, the things she had done for her family, and Mr. Federline drug problems. She said: “Now this year, Britney has been silenced to speak about anything that’s really going on.” Mr. Gallery received the letter with instructions to read it on live television. Instead, he told Ms. Spears to take some time to cool off. Ms. Spears’ lawyers called Ms. Gallery explained how bad it would be if the letter were to be released, so he took a picture of it and gave it to them. Shortly after the incident, Mr. Gallery stopped working for Ms. Spears.

In January 2009. Ms. Eliscu had been working on a story covering Britney Spears in LA and contacted Sam Lutfi. He explained a plan that he had formed with Mr. Ghalib to try to get Ms. Spears a different lawyer. After some convincing, Ms. Eliscu agreed and met with Britney in the bathroom stall of the Montage Hotel in Los Angeles. Ms. Eliscu brought legal documents stating “Britney Jean Spears has expressed her lack of confidence in her court-appointed attorney Samuel Ingham III” among other reasons as to why she sought a new lawyer. When they met in the bathroom stall, Ms. Eliscu handed Ms Spears the pen, she signed, and simply replied with a “thank you.” After weeks of no news, the court had ruled that Ms. Spears lacked the capacity to choose a lawyer, and doubt was cast on the signature. John Anderson, the attorney Ms. Spears had attempted to appoint, then withdrew saying “that is the end for me.”

In March to November of 2009, Brintey performed 70 shows in her Circus tour.

In April of 2009, Britney began her relationship with Jason Trawick, her former agent. They were engaged in December of 2011, when Ms. Spears requested that Mr. Trawick was to be added to the conservatorship. This request was denied. However, when Ms. Spears was offered a judging position of X-Factor, and her medical team said it would put undue pressure on her, she was allowed under the condition that Mr. Trawick was present with her. A few months later, Ms. Spears and Mr. Trawcick ended their relationship.

From 2013 to 2017, Britney held a performance residency in Las Vegas, as advised by her medical team. In 2019, a second residency was announced. It was canceled 3 months later by Britney via Instagram due to family issues.

For almost a year, the public heard nothing from Britney. Fans began to suspect that something was wrong. She posted a video then, to check in and assure that everything was fine, but that only resulted in more suspicions. Ms. Spears had refused to engage in business activities, and Mr. Spears requested stricter privileges in response.

In June of 2021, the world buzzed with news of a hearing for Britney Spears. Fans swarmed the courtroom building in Los Angeles with signs saying “Free Britney.” Before entering, Andrew gallery said “it feels like something is going to happen today.” He was right. 

Fans with their “Free Britney” posters outside of the court building in June. Credit: BBC

In Britney’s testimony she passionately spoke truths held back for years. She explained the pressure her management team put on her. She told the truth behind the cancelation of the second Las Vegas residency: She was given a choice, and when her management said she didn’t have to do it, Britney explained that it was “like lifting literally 200 pounds off of me.” She revealed that her father, immediately after, put her on Lithium, “a very very strong and completely different medication compared to what I was used to.” On James Spears, she said: “Not only did my family not do a goddamned thing, my dad was all for it. He loved every moment of it. The control he had over someone as powerful as me, one-hundred-thousand percent he loved it.” 

“It makes no sense whatsoever for the state of California to sit back and literally watch me make a living for so many people and be told I’m not good enough.” From 2013-2017, in her Piece of Me Las Vegas Tour, Brintey Spears performed 248 shows. $13.707 million in box office sales. Piece of Me Tour in 2018 tours 9 countries with $54.3 million in ticket sales. Ms. Spears’ earnings in 2017 were estimated at $34 million. In 2018, her net worth was about $59 million. From 2013-2017, Jamie Spears earned $2.1 million from tour revenues, and a $16,000 per month salary. He allowed a $8,000 per month allowance to Britney.

After exposing everything that had gone unseen behind the conservatorship for so many years, she said: “My dad, and anyone involved in this conservatorship should be in jail.” And after 13 years, “I just want my life back.”

As of November 13, 2021, Britney Spears’ conservatorship has ended, marking a new era of freedom for the 39 year old’s life.

Mary G.
Mary G.

Mary is a sophomore at SEM. Some of her interests include journalism, rom-coms, and music. Her favorite part about SEM is the freedom and sense of community.

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