Britney vs Spears: Revealing a scam in the name of guardianship
Directed by Erin Lee Carr, the Netflix production, "Britney vs Spears" documents events that led to the conservatorship and the neglect Britney Spears faced for thirteen years. It released on Netflix on September 28, 2021.
The documentary begins with Carr and journalist Jenny Eliscu, calling people to talk about the Britney Spears case. This is followed by old footage to recall or make light of to the newer generation, how big a star Britney was during the 2000s, her marriage with Kevin Federline in 2004 followed by a quick divorce, and her loss of custody of her children in 2007.
Britney was shattered by the divorce and the loss of her children. Things intensified when she was plunged into a media frenzy. More footage shows how she was chased by paparazzis any moment she left her residence. One of them, called Adnan Ghalib, got close with the singer. They dated for a year, during which Britney had two psychiatric holds. Although Ghalib played a very controversial role in Britney's personal life, he seems to favour her in the documentary by noting how people were so quick to conclude that she was crazy, but not upset, angry or hurt.
Eliscu reveals a source told her that Britney was afraid of her family stepping in, which is exactly what happened on February 1, 2008, when she was placed under a temporary conservatorship. This made Britney's father, Jamie Spears, her sole conservator, while he shared the conservatorship of the estate with Andrew Wallet, a court-appointed attorney.
Next, the filmmakers play clips from their interview with a conservatorship attorney named Tony Chicotel, to correlate the statements of the lawyers, a doctor, and others who were acquainted with Britney during the conservatorship. Chicotel explains that a conservatorship is only imposed as a last resort after having tried out all other alternatives. It restricts the conservatee from making any decisions in their life, be it personal, professional or financial, from choosing their own treatments and people they want to communicate with, to even how they spend their money.
Images of publicly available court documents are then flashed on the screen. One shows that the conservatorship had been declared as a "hybrid business model". In what appears to be a search for more evidence from the documents, the filmmakers discuss and evaluate how the conservatorship was deliberately placed.
Eliscu says that Britney was ticked off with dementia, which is very uncommon among young women. She also states that Britney was deprived of the right as a conservatee to a five days' notice for contesting or finding a lawyer. This was done on the excuse that she needed to be protected from her then manager, Sam Lutfi. In an interview with the filmmakers, Lutfi denies the allegation and also claims that he had been used as a scapegoat to deprive Britney of any knowledge about the notice.
Britney was also denied the right to an attorney of her choice. Old footage coupled with Carr's narration show the lengths Britney had to go to secure Adam Streisand as her attorney. Streisand says that he appealed to the court for Britney to have an independent as her conservator. The judge denied as a medical report attested the incapability of the singer to function on her own and maintain a client-attorney relationship.
A court-appointed lawyer named Sam Ingham was then made to represent Britney. Another high-risk attempt was made in January 2009, by Eliscu for Britney to secure a different lawyer, which was overruled by the court on the pretext that Britney's signature had been forged. In 2009, the conservatorship was made permanent. Chicotel asserts that this is a hole in the legal system as it allows courts to decide on the representatives of the conservatee.
Fortunately for the filmmakers, the medical report was leaked to them by an anonymous sender. It says that Britney was unable to "retain and direct counsel" and manage her finances when in fact, Britney was working on the set of "How I Met Your Mother" when the report was initially filed. Carr evaluates the documents and concludes that Dr. Edward Spar would be one of the originators of the document. However, she is unable to prove his signature on the document in the interview she conducts with the doctor.
Chicotel informs that a conservatee usually does not have a job. Yet, Britney went on tours and was overworked against her will, while the doctor's report was used against her when it came to appointing an attorney, using her own money or just living life on her own terms. The singer was also forced on stimulants during tours but was denied on other occasions.
To conclude, the documentary was able to roughly summarise events leading to the conservatorship as 90 minutes is not enough to cover the complexities of a whole scam. Although much was focused on Jamie Spears, which is understandable, it did not thoroughly investigate others such as Larry Rudolph, Britney's longtime manager and Louise Taylor, her business manager who were the alleged forerunners of the conservatorship, along with Andrew Wallet and other lawyers, Adnan Ghalib, Sam Ingham and Jason Trawick, Britney's ex and former co-conservator. Their involvement and inaction are equally questionable for maintaining ground for the scheme for thirteen long years.
It feels that the documentary was released in haste to solidify public support for Britney before the trial for suspension of Jamie as her conservator. A clear picture would have been induced if the filmmakers had waited until Jamie Spears' permanent dissolution, or at least his suspension, which happened a day after its release.
The author is a freelance journalist. Email: email@example.com.