Netflix’s “Britney vs. Spears” is the latest in an onslaught of documentaries regarding Britney Spears’ life and conservatorship that have rolled out this year, putting a new lens on the legal arrangement and revealing disturbing allegations that have helped accelerate a possible end to the 13-year saga.
Though Spears, 39, hasn’t appeared in any documentary herself, and has previously described the retrospectives on her life as hypocritical, many legal experts agree the publicity around her case has helped bring scrutiny to her situation.
The #FreeBritney fan movement was previously dismissed as a social media conspiracy theory by critics, but this year's headlines have helped legitimize the campaign to re-evaluate the conservatorship.
“We’re finding something new almost every day. We are about to find out a whole other host of other shocking and upsetting information,” said Tamar Arminak, a conservatorship lawyer who worked with the actor Amanda Bynes' parents. “Months ago, I never would have imagined this type of information on Britney’s case, and I’m afraid this is just a tip of the iceberg.”
Hulu and FX released “Framing Britney Spears” in February, a New York Times documentary that pushed the concerns of #FreeBritney into the mainstream. Since then, the BBC, CNN and Netflix have all released their own documentaries.
The Netflix documentary from filmmaker Erin Lee Carr, which debuted Tuesday, features interviews with controversial figures from Spears’ past, including her ex-boyfriend and paparazzo Adnan Ghalib and ex-manager Sam Lutfi. It also includes documents and text messages, which Carr pours over to piece together the singer's past. Those who NBC News interviewed had not yet seen the doc but said it's still likely to make an impact.
The New York Times' latest documentary, which debuted Friday, brought new allegations against the singer's father, James “Jamie” Spears.
A former assistant to Black Box, a security firm employed by the conservatorship, alleged that Jamie Spears asked to monitor all of Britney Spears’ communications, including those to Samuel Ingham, her former attorney. He also accused the firm of planting a recording device in the singer’s home.
Edan Yemini, the CEO of Black Box Security, did not respond to detailed questions about the allegations, according to the Times.
Vivian Thoreen, an attorney for Jamie Spears, said her client has “dedicated his life” to helping his daughter turn her life around. She continued on to say that “all of his actions were well within the parameters of the authority conferred upon him by the court.”
These allegations are likely to have a “tremendous” impact on Britney Spears’ case, Arminak said. Conservatorships are often sealed cases, but the documentaries have brought a hidden story into the spotlight, according to Arminak.
Sam Asghari, Britney Spears’ fiancé, told his Instagram followers last week that past projects “left bad after taste” but that he didn’t blame the companies for airing them. He said he questioned producers who make them “without input or approval from the subject.” In a comment on Instagram, he also said he hoped "the profit from these docs go towards fighting agains[t] injustice #freebritney."
Arminak said it’s understandable that Britney Spears wouldn’t be a fan of the documentaries, considering how long she’s allegedly been silenced.
“Even though these documentaries are bringing attention and change to her conservatorship — which is what she wanted — it still must be frustrating for someone like her who has no control over how that story is told,” Arminak said. “Regardless of what good it may bring, it must be frustrating to not be able to tell her own life story because at the center of all these documentaries is Britney, who is a human being.”
Concerns about how Britney Spears is portrayed through these projects isn’t invalid, even with the positive attention it’s given her case. High-profile attention can sometimes be a double-edged sword, said Danny Cevallos, an NBC News legal analyst.
“Any information that shows odd behavior, even if it’s Instagram clips taken out of context, it could really be bad for her,” Cevallos said. “On the other hand, the New York Times documentary arguably brought attention to her situation and the controversies surrounding the nature of conservatorships nationwide.”
The fact that Britney Spears hasn’t been a participant in her own story is part of the criticism of conservatorships more broadly, said Zoe Brennan-Krohn, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Disability Rights Program.
Until the case was recently unsealed and the singer gave a public testimony, Brennan-Krohn pointed out, the world was reliant on Jamie Spears’ perspective of the conservatorship.
“The concept of a conservatorship or losing your rights can be an abstract concept to some people, but the revelations in the newest documentaries and reporting have made concrete what that actually looks like,” Brennan-Krohn said. “It means someone listening to your phone calls, watching your every move or deciding your birth control — it has really brought home to people who haven’t thought about this very much what it means to be in a conservatorship.”
It’s unlikely that Jamie Spears would have filed to terminate the conservatorship this month without the public scrutiny, added Neama Rahmani, president and co-founder of West Coast Trial Lawyers.
“Unfortunately, it takes public attention on an issue for there to be change. ... The attention the case received gets the public to rethink how we have been handling issues like conservatorships over the course of American history,” Rahmani said.
Britney Spears' next hearing is on Wednesday.