The day before embattled US pop star Britney Spears returns to court to terminate the conservatorship that oversees her personal life and finances, Netflix is set to drop a “top secret” documentary on this traumatic part of her life.
On September 28, the Britney vs Spears doco, which took nearly three years to make, will unpack the legal control people have had over Spears and her public and private bids for freedom.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times before its highly anticipated release, director Erin Lee Carr (How To Fix a Drug Scandal, Dirty Money), 33, says that although Spears, 39, did not collaborate on the project, she hopes the documentary delivers “the definitive place to understand the beginning, middle and hopefully what we will find out as the end of this saga”.
This is not the first non-fiction piece on Spears.
Carr described an earlier New York Times-produced explosive documentary Framing Britney Spears as “a great primer for how the media treated Britney”.
“I think it’s an incredibly important thing for people to understand. And then for my film to take on the responsibility of the conservatorship as Britney speaks out – focusing less on how she was culturally treated but more the consequences of it,” Carr explains in the LA Times.
“This is next level. You can lose yourself inside the chaos of the story, but at the heart of it is this person publicly and privately trying to get their own freedom back.”
“As a filmmaker who makes films about women [Gypsy Rose Blanchard, Michelle Carter and the USA Gymnastics scandal], Britney Spears is one of the big stories. She’s an icon and a celebrated person but ended up somehow having the same legal rights as a minor,” Carr continued.
“It was just a pervasive mystery of what happened to this really good person. So I very naively was like, ‘Well, maybe I can figure it out’.
“I called an industry insider at the beginning, and the person was like, “Yeah, good luck getting anyone to talk. It’s not gonna fly. It’s this story that nobody talks about.”
Meanwhile, on September 23, in a filing submitted to the LA Superior Court, Spears’ lawyer Mathew Rosengart asked that the musician’s father, Jamie Spears, be removed from the conservatorship by September 29 and that a temporary replacement be named to wind down the arrangement.
“Ms Spears will seek appointment of a temporary, short-term conservator to replace Mr Spears until the conservatorship is completely and inevitably terminated this fall,” the filing said.
Jamie Spears set up the court-sanctioned arrangement that governs the singer’s personal affairs – and her $US60 million ($86.7 million) estate – in 2008.
The singer told the court in June her father was controlling and she wanted out of the conservatorship, but no timeline had been requested.
Spears said in a dramatic courtroom speech on June 23, which gave a jolt to the case and galvanised support for the singer, that she was being compelled under the conservatorship to take certain medications and to use an intrauterine device for birth control against her will.
James Spears has denied acting in anything but his daughter’s best interest and has declined demands that he resign immediately, though he said in court documents that he does have a plan to eventually step down.
But, in a major reversal and possibly strategic move, he said in his September 7 filing that if she “wants to terminate the conservatorship and believes that she can handle her own life, Mr Spears believes that she should get that chance”.
Jodi Montgomery, the professional conservator who has been overseeing Spears’ personal affairs, supports ending the arrangement “subject to proper transition and asset protection,” according to Mr Rosengart’s filing.
‘If you care about women, you should watch this movie’
The New York Times documentary thrust Spears’ case into the public spotlight, triggering the #FreeBritney campaign on social media that continues to rally for her release from the legal arrangements.
Its release and subsequent success affected how Carr approached making her documentary for Netflix.
Carr told the LA Times the difficult part was convincing sources to talk openly – though she said a source connected to the conservatorship helped her stay on track by leaking her crucial information.
“People don’t want to return your phone calls. Some of the people that I really wanted that had not spoken before – they were like, ‘Absolutely not’ or just didn’t respond,” she said.
“I’ve made things without access before, but you need other people if you don’t have access to the main person. And Britney, at the time, had never spoken about the conservatorship.”
As far as landing an interview with Spears?
“I always hoped and dreamed and wished and prayed to the documentary gods. I tried to contact her repeatedly. But I had to sit with the understanding that it was unlikely ever to happen.”
In announcing the film’s release, Netflix said Britney vs Spears features exclusive interviews and new documents, including “text messages and a voicemail as well as new interviews with key players [that] make clear what Britney herself has attested”.
Netflix teased the release of the film with a snippet of a voicemail from Spears to a lawyer just after midnight on January 21, 2009.
“Hi, my name is Britney Spears, I called you earlier. I’m calling again because I just wanted to make sure that during the process of eliminating the conservatorship … “.
Netflix says it “paints a thorough portrait of the pop star’s trajectory from girl next door to a woman trapped by fame and family and her own legal status. It shows Britney’s life without utilising the traumatic images that have previously defined her”.
The film weaves a shocking timeline of old and new players, secret rendezvous, and Britney’s behind-the-scenes fight for her autonomy.
Carr adds: “If you care about women, you should watch this movie. If you care about mental health, you should watch this movie. If you’re a fan of Britney Spears, you should watch this movie”.
She says she has sent a letter to Spears advising of the film’s existence – she believes Spears has read it – and that she wanted the singer to like the film.
“I would like her to. But I don’t know what it’s like to be her.”
The 94-minute film will be released in Australia on Tuesday, September 28 at 5pm (AEST)