For those of you who are still out of the loop, pop singer Britney Spears has been under a conservatorship for 13 years now. All of Spears’ finances and important life decisions are handled by a conservator—in this case, her father, Jamie Spears—because a judge deemed her unfit to care for herself back in 2008.
Britney’s public meltdowns led her to be committed into a psychiatric ward twice under a 5150 hold, a section of the Welfare and Institutions Code used to involuntarily detain someone with a mental illness for a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization. The day after her second stay at the hospital, Spears’ father petitioned for an emergency temporary conservatorship, which was soon made permanent. Since then, Britney has released four albums and held several successful world tours, including a Las Vegas residency.
If the Mississippi native is capable of making millions of dollars per year, and even named Forbes’ most well-paid celebrity in 2012, why is she still under this legal arrangement? This is the question that the #FreeBritney movement has been trying to answer since April of 2019.
Speculations began three months after cancelling her second Las Vegas residency, Britney: Domination—citing Jamie Spears then-declining health as the main reason for the abrupt change—the singer checked into a mental health facility for thirty days, per the Los Angeles Times.
Interest sparked further through an episode of Britney’s Gram, a podcast dedicated to dissecting the pop singer’s Instagram account. There, Tess Barker and Barbara Gray claimed that they received a voicemail from a former paralegal involved with the conservatorship. They warned their followers that Britney wanted out of the legal arrangement and her stay in the mental health facility was potentially against her will.
Dozens of protesters took to the streets and flooded social media with the #FreeBritney hashtag. Even celebrities such as Miley Cyrus spoke up in support. Although Britney dismissed fans’ worries in an Instagram post, speculation continued surrounding the cryptic nature of her social media posts.
Despite her claims that everything was fine, the singer stated back in August of 2020, through court documents, that she wanted her father removed as the sole conservator of her estate, according to Entertainment Tonight.
After Jamie Spears stepped down as conservator in 2019 due to health reasons, Britney’s attorney, Sam Ingham, filed documents in which the singer requested that Bessemer Trust Company, a wealth management and investment advisory firm, manage her estate.
The claim surfaced after her father appointed a new manager without Spears’ consent. The court documents reveal that Britney doesn’t trust her father to be in charge of her financial assets.
“His simple litigation strategy is to introduce a new gatekeeper who admittedly has a major working relationship with his legal team. Therefore, Britney will be filing a petition to remove Jamie as conservator of the estate,” read the documents.
Later, in November of 2020, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Brenda Penny ruled that Bessemer and Jamie would be co-conservators. During the hearing, Ingham stated that Britney is scared of her father and won’t continue her career until her father is no longer in charge of her financial assets.
Ingham told the judge: “My client has informed me that she is afraid of her father. She will not perform again if her father is in charge of her career,” reported Variety.
The case gained peak media attention last month, when The New York Times-produced documentary Framing Britney Spears was released on Hulu. Director Samantha Stark captured the pop singer’s rise to fame, personal turmoils, and the sexist media coverage she suffered at the hands of journalists and paparazzis.
However, the film also shed a light on the current state of Spears’ conservatorship and the #FreeBritney movement. Fans all over the world finally felt their claims were validated, and while the documentary was well-received by critics, the outcry is far from over.
Supporters of Spears have carefully followed the case and kept tabs on what she can and can’t do within the terms established by her conservators.
“Britney’s conservators control her finances and her person, which includes her movements, visitors, medical care, and legal decisions. As a conservatee, Britney Spears has been blocked from having custody of her children, choosing her own doctor and medical treatment, and hiring a lawyer of her choice. Her conservators decide whether or not she works, as she cannot enter into contracts for herself because she is legally not her own person. Britney Spears needs permission from her conservators to leave her house or spend any of her own money,” according to FreeBritney.net’s homepage.
Britney had a small legal victory in February—roughly a week after the documentary was released—when judge Penny denied Jamie Spears’ request to remain as the sole conservator of the singer’s estate. However, it remains unclear when further legal actions will ensue to remove Britney’s father from the legal arrangement.
“It’s no secret that my client does not want her father as co-conservator, but we recognize that removal is a separate issue,” Ingham told the court, per Variety.
Regardless of the actual legal actions taken, Britney fans speculate that her father wants to remain as the sole conservator due to the financial benefits. Jamie Spears, as conservator of her estate, earns $130,000 dollars annually. The #FreeBritney movement has criticized Jamie’s reluctance to recognize his own daughter’s free will and desire to live an independent life.
Even Britney’s boyfriend, Sam Asghari, publicly criticized her father for apparently getting in the way of their relationship. The singer’s inner circle has rarely commented on the conservatorship without the use of euphemisms and usually declines interviews from the press. Britney herself hasn’t given any unsupervised interviews in years.
“Now it’s important for people to understand that I have zero respect for someone trying to control our relationship and constantly throwing obstacles our way […] In my opinion Jamie is a total dick,” Asghari wrote on a post shared via Instagram Stories.
Spears’ fans also point out all the psychological trauma that the singer endured due to tabloids’ sexist coverage, paparazzi stalking, and the lack of respect toward her mental health. The #FreeBritney movement seeks to shift the narrative concerning her struggles and to make sure that other individuals aren’t subjected to potentially abusive conservatorships or to traumatizing media coverage.
Despite Britney’s request and the negative media coverage following the documentary’s release, her father insists that he’s acted as conservator for her own good. Recently, Jamie Spears’ lawyer, Vivian Lee Thoreen, who was also featured in Framing Britney Spears, told CNN that Britney’s father “would love nothing more than to see Britney not need a conservatorship.” She also said on NBC News that “Britney being safe and not being taken advantage of is his No. 1 priority.”
Due to the conflicts presented throughout the conservatorship case, and Britney’s estranged relationship with her father, Thoreen’s expressions probably won’t be taken as factual by the singer’s fanbase. The singer’s future remains to be seen, as future hearings on the case are scheduled for March 17 and April 27.