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On Aug. 12, it was announced that Britney Spears’ father Jamie Spears had agreed to step away from his role as conservator of his daughter’s estate. Though a landmark moment for the singer, who, in an emotional testimony last month, expressed that she feels her conservatorship is “abusive,” has led her to unhappiness and to feel like she can’t “live a full life,” the exact timing of changes to her conservatorship remains unclear.
With Spears the subject of media scrutiny as she faced numerous high-profile struggles yet continued to perform, before a mysterious abrupt end to her Las Vegas residency, the pop star’s 13-year-long conservatorship has led to concern and speculation among fans. A social media movement dubbed #FreeBritney launched a few years ago, only to gain more steam following the New York Times Presents FX on Hulu documentary, Framing Britney Spears.
The Hollywood Reporter breaks down a timeline of the events that occurred before Spears’ conservatorship, after and onward amid the #FreeBritney movement.
Spears’ Public Struggles (2006-2007)
After marrying former backup dancer Kevin Federline in 2004, nearly three months after they first began dating, Spears and Federline would go on to share sons Sean Preston and Jayden. However, when the singer and Federline split in 2006, eight weeks after their second child Jayden’s arrival, turmoil quickly followed for Spears with a wave of high-profile incidents. In 2006, Spears faced backlash after photos surfaced of her driving while her infant son sat on her lap. In an interview with Matt Lauer, Spears explained her side of the story: “I did it with my dad. I’d sit on his lap and I’d drive. We’re country,” she said at the time.
While embroiled in a custody battle over her sons, Spears would continue to attract media attention. On Feb. 16, 2007, Spears shocked the world as she was captured on film shaving her head in a salon in Tarzana, California. In her 2008 MTV documentary, Britney: For the Record, Spears recalled being “devastated” at the time after her divorce. “People thought that it was me going crazy and stuff like that, but people shave their heads all the time. I was going through a lot, but it was just kind of like me just feeling a form of a little bit of rebellion, or feeling free, or shedding stuff that had happened.”
Just days after shaving her head, Spears would hit a photographer’s car with an umbrella after growing frustrated at being followed. After cutting ties with her management, Spears was photographed partying, in the frequent company of her new manager Sam Lutfi, and caught wearing a pink wig, as well as speaking to paparazzi in a British accent. Spears would eventually go on to complete an inpatient program at Promises in Malibu as Federline had custody of their children. However, backlash continued to follow after Spears was charged with a hit and run while driving without a license in 2007. The then-25-year-old was filmed by paparazzi steering her car into another vehicle while attempting to turn into a spot in a parking lot. She was then shown on paparazzi video walking away. Spears would go on to lose custody of her sons in October 2007.
Spears Placed Under Conservatorship (2008)
In January 2008, Britney Spears was placed under two involuntary psychiatric holds after engaging in a three-hour standoff because she reportedly refused to relinquish custody of her son Jayden to Federline after a visitation. Spears was eventually taken to a psychiatric hospital and placed on a 5150 hold. Weeks later, she would be put under another 5150 psychiatric hold, which led to the court in February 2008 approving a temporary conservatorship with her father, Jamie Spears, named conservator of her person, while he and attorney Andrew Wallet were named co-conservators of her estate. Under the conservatorship, Spears’ father was given the legal right to oversee decisions about her estate and health.
Despite the conservatorship being temporary, it was extended through the end of 2008. Two months prior to the court-ordered conservatorship ending, Spears’ father was ruled to retain control for an indefinite period. Then Los Angeles Superior Court Commissioner Reva Goetz said she was granting the permanent conservatorship in part because Britney Spears has shown she is “susceptible to undue influence.” After Jamie Spears was granted conservatorship of his daughter, he would hit Lutfi with a restraining order.
Spears Breaks Silence on Prior Incidents (2008)
In 2008, Spears’ MTV documentary, Britney: For the Record, aired ahead of her appearance at the 2008 MTV Video Music Awards — her first since her buzzed-about VMA performance the year prior and return to the music spotlight with her sixth studio album, Circus. In the documentary, Spears reflected on her public struggles and tearfully expressed her sadness over her life being “too in control.” “The way I feel, it’s like they hear me but they’re really not listening,” she said. “When you go to jail, there’s always the time that you know that you’re going to get out…It’s just like Groundhog Day every day.”
Spears Performs Under Conservatorship (2009-2019)
A year after Spears was put under a conservatorship, the FreeBritney.net website launched, questioning why it was necessary and compiling news stories and documents to inform Spears’ fans. For the next decade, while under the conservatorship, Britney released several albums (Femme Fatale, Britney Jean, Glory) and performed in Las Vegas residencies (Piece of Me, Domination). In 2012, Spears’ fiancé at the time and former agent Jason Trawick became a co-conservator, as requested by her months after their engagement in December 2011. He gained control over several decision-making aspects of her personal life but not her assets. In 2016, she addressed her conservatorship for the first time during an interview for The Jonathan Ross Show. “Okay, so I have this conservatorship. I’ve been under this conservatorship for three years and I felt like a lot of decisions were made for me, so I wanted [her ninth studio album Glory] to be my baby and I’ve been really strategic about it,” she told Ross, according to PopCrush contributor Grace Medford who was in the audience.
#FreeBritney Movement Picks Up Steam (2019)
In January 2019, Spears announced she would be indefinitely postponing her Domination Las Vegas residency, saying she was unable to do the show because of her father’s health struggles. A few months later, on April 3, she began a month-long stay at a mental health facility. A few weeks into her stay, the fan podcast Britney’s Gram claimed that the pop princess was being held against her will. A tipster claiming to be a paralegal who formerly worked with an attorney connected to the conservatorship alleged Jamie Spears threatened to pull all support for his daughter’s Vegas residency unless she took medication he wanted, and when she didn’t do so, the show was pulled and she unwillingly entered the mental health facility. The #FreeBritney hashtag soon emerged, with fans beginning to protest for her release. In May, Jamie Spears filed a notice of intent to extend his daughter’s conservatorship outside of California to three other states: in Florida, her home state of Louisiana and Hawaii, where she often vacationed. Just a month later, he sued a blogger for defamation over #FreeBritney-related allegations. Jamie Spears stepped away as conservator of her person in September, citing health reasons. Jodi Montgomery has been in the role ever since.
Bryan Spears, Britney’s Brother and Former Manager, Speaks Out (2020)
Amid the rising #FreeBritney movement and increasing tabloid interest, Britney Spears’ elusive brother, Bryan Spears, spoke about his sister on an episode of Drew Plotkin’s As NOT Seen on TV podcast. He described the conservatorship as a “complex law” in which someone who is incapacitated or feels like they are a danger to themselves receives state intervention by way of a team of people to run their lives and “put them on the right path.” Bryan Spears, who worked as a manager for his sister from 2003-2009 and has produced projects for both her and fellow sibling Jamie-Lynn, added later that this team has 100 percent say in what she can and can’t do.
He explained, “She’s been in this thing for quite some time now. Obviously, there was a need for it in the beginning that, as every — I assume everyone knows the issues that were going on. And now they’ve made some changes. You know, all we can do is hope for the best.” While Bryan Spears was vague about who actually initiated the conservatorship, he said that his sister had always wanted to get out of it while also expressing concern about the next step if that were to happen.
Framing Britney Spears Doc Is Released (2021)
The New York Times Presents Framing Britney Spears, an FX on Hulu documentary from director Samantha Stark told the story of Spears’ career and rise in an increasing celebrity- and tabloid-driven culture. The film explored pivotal moments in Spears’ life, from her troubles in 2007 to the beginning of her conservatorship, to the treatment she received from relentless paparazzi photographers, who contributed to the media attention put on Spears over the course of many years.
In recalling why she tackled the documentary, senior story editor Liz Day told THR, that “the mystery of the conservatorship had always fascinated me because something about it seemed to be an inherent contradiction and not really add up: How could this person be both so supposedly severely at risk and unable to take care of herself that she needs to this intense level of legal protection but at the same time perform at a very high level in Las Vegas, making millions of dollars, appearing on television — how could those two things both be true at the same time?”
The documentary, which is twice nominated at the upcoming Emmy Awards, did not include direct involvement from Spears or her father Jamie Spears. But a week after it was released, Britney Spears seemed to address the project via social media: “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.”
Britney Spears Tells Judge She is “Traumatized” (2021)
In an emotional and fiery virtual court speech to L.A. Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny, Spears directly addressed the conservatorship and her desire for it to stop. “It’s my wish and my dream for this to end,” she said. She explained that she did not feel she was adequately heard last time and took this opportunity to share specific details to support her argument — such as being forced to do a 2018 tour and change her medication. “I’ve lied and told the whole world I’m OK and I’m happy,” Spears said, explaining that she was in denial. “If I said that enough, maybe I’d become happy. … I’m in shock. I’m traumatized. … I’m so angry it’s insane.”
Spears also said during this speech that she believes the conservatorship is abusive and that it prevents her from living a full life. In response, Penny noted that in order for significant changes to be made to the conservatorship, paperwork would have to be filed with the court.
The following month, Spears’ addressed the court via telephone and demanded her father be charged with conservatorship abuse, referring to the conservatorship as “fucking cruelty.” She received court approval to hire her chosen attorney in Mathew Rosengart, which removed longtime court-appointed attorney Samuel D. Ingham III and signaled a win for the pop star.
Jamie Spears Suggests He Transition Out (2021)
Britney Spears’ father Jamie agreed to step down from his position as conservator of her estate weeks after a petition was filed for his removal. While the timeline of his suggested transition remains unclear, Jamie Spears’ attorney Vivian Thoreen said in a filing that her client “intends to work with the Court and his daughter’s new attorney to prepare for an orderly transition to a new conservator.” She added that, at this time, there are “no urgent circumstances” justifying his immediate suspension.
Rosengart issued a subsequent statement, calling the decision “a major victory for Britney Spears and another step toward justice.” As of today, Britney Spears has not addressed the news, though she posted a drawing on Instagram of the back of a young woman’s head, with flowers and butterflies in her hair and dress. In the comments, a series of posts appeared referencing Spears’ path to freedom.
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