“The Battle For Britney”

Bombshell Claim: Does Britney Spears have dementia?

New documentary suggests that either Spears has dementia or her conservatorship is defrauding the courts

The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship, will premiere to stream through BBC Select. Hosted by BAFTA-winning journalist Mobeen Azhar, it digs deeper into the legal parameters behind Spears’ situation, investigating fans’ claims that they’re fraudulent

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MUSIC PRESS GROUP

Last week, Britney Spears posted a video of herself dancing on Instagram, accompanied by an uncharacteristically long, emoji-filled caption. While the post covered an eclectic array of topics—her love of travel, her desire to install a koi pond in her backyard, her pride in her garden—it was her blunt reaction to the recent spate of documentaries about her life and controversial conservatorship that made headlines.

“So many documentaries about me this year with other people’s takes on my life ... what can I say … I’m deeply flattered !!!! These documentaries are so hypocritical … they criticize the media and then do the same thing ???????? Damn …” she wrote.

In February, FX and Hulu’s The New York Times Presents documentary series premiered Framing Britney Spears, a crash course in the saga of Spears’ conservatorship and the media’s role in her mental health journey. It doubled as a recruitment tool for the #FreeBritney movement, galvanizing those who watched to join the fan-led push to have Spears removed from the conservatorship’s legal straitjacket.

The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship, will premiere to stream through BBC Select. Hosted by BAFTA-winning journalist Mobeen Azhar, it digs deeper into the legal parameters behind Spears’ situation, investigating fans’ claims that they’re fraudulent.

“I don’t know y’all but I’m thrilled to remind you all that although I've had some pretty tough times in my life ... I’ve had waaaayyyy more amazing times in my life and unfortunately my friends … I think the world is more interested in the negative ??‍♀️??‍♀️??‍♀️ !!!!” Spears continued in her post. “I mean … isn’t this supposed to be a business and society about THE FUTURE ??? ???? Why highlight the most negative and traumatizing times in my life from forever ago ???? I mean DAMN.”

The question of whether these projects are informative or continued exploitation is especially pertinent following Spears’ post, and as The Battle for Britney airs.

There is value in these projects, which have inspired a conversation about the ethics of conservatorships, in which finances and all life decisions are put under the control of a guardian, and the potential in such situations for unchecked abuse.

Especially as the #FreeBritney movement grows in number and in volume, demystifying the complexities of the system is helpful. A conservatorship is a legal framework typically meant to help the elderly or people who are unable to care for themselves—in other words, people who are incompetent or incapacitated.

That Spears is an entertainer who has managed to tour the globe, perform concerts in a Las Vegas residency, sell millions of albums, and center an enterprise worth millions of dollars doesn’t square with the definition of someone who requires a conservatorship.

Even if you strip away all the conspiracy theories that swirl in the #FreeBritney movement, that dissonance raises a valid concern that has not been publicly addressed in a satisfying manner.

The issue with both Framing Britney Spears and The Battle For Britney is that, while heavily researched and reported, both films’ attempts to answer that central question still amount to speculation.

The documentaries fall into a trap. While inspired by concerns that Spears is being taken advantage of, both focus on her past and the events that led here rather than her current state of health and well-being—even though that preoccupation spawned the movement and the film projects in the first place.

Neither documentary gains access to Spears or her father, Jamie, who is the co-conservator of her estate. (Spears has asked to have him removed from that role.)

But they also don’t speak to anyone who has any real access to Spears in her current life in any meaningful way. While the public debates what’s best for the entertainer, outside of court filings — for the first time, she will address the court directly in June — Spears’ state of mind and her wishes remain a mystery.

Yes, we allegedly hear from Spears through her Instagram account. But fans have long questioned whether she is in control of those posts and whether the messages actually come from her. As one fan says in The Battle For Britney, “How do we know that Britney’s going live and there’s not a gun pointed at her head on the other side of the camera?”

The biggest bombshell in The Battle For Britney is a question as much as it is a revelation.

Host Mobeen Azhar discovers and talks through court records attained by a fan group. He’s unable to prove definitively that they’re real, but they appear to be. The court records show that the conservatorship order “relates to dementia placement or treatment.”

There are two conclusions that could be drawn from that, according to Azhar. One is that Spears has dementia and the world, until now, had no idea—though, considering that people under age 65 account for fewer than 5 percent of dementia cases and Spears is just 39 years old, that is unlikely.

“The other option is actually more sinister,” he says.

In that scenario, Spears’ father and the people on her team that filed for the conservatorship did so under fraudulent pretenses in order to ensure they could make money off the estate and Spears would be unable to get out of the arrangement.

In the debate over whether the conservatorship is for Spears’ own protection or if it’s exploitation, fans are quick to point out that she is under a probate conservatorship and not a mental health conservatorship.

The difference is that no one is allowed to make money off a mental health conservatorship.

The Battle for Britney interviews a former probate and conservatorship attorney named Lisa MacCarley, who says she is of the understanding that Sam Ingham, the court-appointed attorney who has been paid by the Spears estate for the entirety of the 13-year conservatorship, receives $10,000 a week for his services. Spears was not allowed to choose her own attorney.

“There is no outside agency or entity that you can talk to to say that this is a systemic flaw,” MacCarley says.

“I’d like to see the whole thing unwound. When they deprived her of an attorney of her choice, that is the day that justice died for Britney Spears.”

Like Framing Britney Spears, which relied on interviews with people from Spears’ past, like her former chaperone and “assistant” Felicia Culotta, The Battle For Britney travels to Kentwood, Louisiana, where Spears is from, to talk to locals about their memories of the star.

Former choreographer Brian Friedman is interviewed, but he and Spears haven’t been in regular contact in a decade.

It’s Spears’ fans who speak out on her behalf instead. While what they say is juicy — Jordan Miller, who coined the phrase “Free Britney,” says Jamie Spears called him personally to threaten to shut down his fan site — their theorizing is as informed as anyone else’s.

The documentary does give space to the idea that the conservatorship is a good thing in the best interest of Spears’ health and safety. Confusingly, celebrity blogger Perez Hilton is the voice of that side of the argument: “If she didn’t have a conservatorship in place, I would be concerned that Britney would be dead. Truly.”

Plus, if Jamie Spears is removed from his position as co-conservator, there are also fears that a court-appointed guardian could make things worse for Spears. Her estate could be drained of all its wealth and assets. She could be put in an institution. The system is rife with opportunity for exploitation.

The only interviewee who purports to be in regular contact with Spears turns out to be an unreliable narrator.

Makeup artist Billy Brasfield says he told Spears that he was going to participate in the documentary and alleges that she asked what he would be talking about.

In the documentary, he says that Spears wants to be able to do normal things like go for a drive when she wants and she doesn’t want her family involved in the legal affairs because it is hurting their relationship.

But in that Instagram post from last week that seemed to be inspired by The Battle For Britney’s impending release, Spears specifically said, “I don’t actually talk to Billy B AT ALL so I’m honestly very confused.”

Then there are the suspicions that Spears saying she doesn’t talk to Brasfield is damage control orchestrated by her team.

That’s the danger of these projects, and why they may be in questionable taste. The conspiracy-theory-and-speculation arms race escalates each time one comes out.

The public interest they stoke in Spears’ conservatorship case may have motivated her latest advances toward amending her arrangement and maybe even having her father removed.

And it has illuminated the reality of conservatorship abuse and the need for systemic reforms. But, as Spears’ Instagram post suggests — whether or not you believe it’s real — there is also damage being done by all the attention and the scrutiny.

At what point is it activist journalism, and at what point is it all just toxic?

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