Justin Timberlake ‘let Britney be painted as a slut’, and 4 other eye-opening reveals from Framing Britney Spears

Josh Milton
·4-min read

Framing Britney Spears, the highly anticipated New York Times documentary, gripped viewers with its bristling and honest dive into the rise and fall of the pop princess.

Across 72 minutes, the FX film revisited the “shaming” Britney Spears received from the press and how she came to be in a conservatorship – a court-approved arrangement which sees her estate, among other things, managed mainly by her father, Jamie Spears – in 2008.

The 39-year-old broke her years-long silence on her conservatorship last year when she asked the courts to remove Jamie for good. It sparked a bitter standoff between Britney and her own father, apparently poisoning the pair’s relationship so severely that Jamie noted they haven’t spoken “in months” last year.

With Britney’s conservatorship set to continue running for the foreseeable future, the documentary was a landmark in the long-running fan fight to “free” the star.

Framing Britney Spears both spotlighted and provided more ammunition for the grassroots Free Britney movement, which has organised marches and rallies to lobby for the conservatorship to come to an end.

Here are five of the biggest takeaways from Framing Britney Spears.

1. A misogynistic media belittled and ‘shamed’ Britney Spears even as a teen.

Britney Spears. (Brian Ach/WireImage)
Britney Spears. (Brian Ach/WireImage)

“Britney was shamed for her sexuality at a very young age,” the documentary’s producer Samantha Sark said.

Indeed, when examining the downfall of Spears, filmmakers urged people not to look at the landmark moments – the shaved head, the public divorces – but the interviews with invasive journalists in the earliest years of her career.

The documentary showed various archival footage of Britney being quizzed by the media. In one chat, 70-year-old Star Search host Ed McMahon asks an 11-year-old Britney whether she has a boyfriend – she did not, for “all men are mean”, she said.

In another interview, an unnamed reporter patronisingly told Britney that “everyone is talking about” her “breasts”, looking offended when Britney tried to duck discussing her cup size.

2. But she was far stronger than most people thought.

Britney Spears performing onstage at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards
Britney Spears performing onstage at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards. (Scott Gries/ImageDirect)

Members of Britney’s inner circle all described her as an incredibly strong and resilient person, while more archival footage showed her candour when journalists condescended her.

“I know all the ins and outs of what I’m doing,” a young Britney said in one chat. “I know about all the contracts and all the deals I’m about to do. I’m not just some girl who’s listening to my manager.”

The singer’s backup dancer, Kevin Tancharoen, said: “That idea that Britney is a puppet who just gets moved around and gets told what to do is incredibly inaccurate […] She was the boss.”

3. Justin Timberlake took ‘revenge’ on Britney after break-up.

Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake in 2002. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake in 2002. (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Britney was already the world’s biggest star when she began dating then-NSYNC member Justin Timberlake in 1999.

The pair split in 2002, with Timberlake fuelling rumours Britney cheated with his single “Cry Me A River”.

Guests on the documentary described how Timberlake’s career profited from the way this breakup was portrayed by the press.

Britney, according to The New York Times critic Wesley Morris, was painted as “the school slut” while Timberlake, now the “quarterback”, used “Cry Me A River” as “pure male revenge fantasy” to take a potshot at her.

4. Britney ‘never wanted her father as her conservator’.

Jamie Spears in a brown jacket and Britney Spears in a vest smile at the camera
Jamie (L) and Britney Spears. (Chris Farina/Corbis via Getty Images)

The documentary details the shadier parts of Britney’s family life – including her vastly absent father. This strained relationship shaped her conservatorship, guests told the Times.

Trial lawyer Adam Streisand first met the “Toxic” hitmaker in 2008 shortly after her hospitalisation. “The first question I had was: ‘Does Britney have the capacity to be able to hire me? Does she have the ability to take my advice?'” he recalled.

Streisand added: “The second thing was, she said: ‘I don’t want my father to be the conservator.’ That was her one request.”

As much as Streisand stressed that Spears was “capable”, judges ruled that she was unable to retain her own lawyer, meaning he wasn’t brought on.

More than a decade later, and Britney is fighting to stop her father from being her conservator.

5. Britney Spears ‘will one day tell her story’.

Britney Spears. (VALERIE MACON / AFP) (Photo credit should read VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)
Britney Spears making a rare red carpet appearance. (Getty/Valerie Macon)

Britney has largely remained silent on her conservatorship, prompting fans to pour over her social media and treat her Instagram posts – at this point, one of the last remaining ways she interacts with her fans – as cryptic calls for help.

“I know at some point she will tell her story,” said her former assistant Felicia Culotta. “I know she will.

“And I am so grateful for when that point comes, that she’s able to sit down and everything will fall into place.”