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'Britney Vs. Spears' Is Netflix's New Documentary About Spears' Conservatorship


Netflix this morning released "Britney Vs Spears," a 90-minute documentary surrounding the conservatorship established for the pop star. The documentary drops one day before a court hearing which may determine the fate of the 13-year-long arrangement, which has largely placed her father in control of her affairs. Here to tell us all about it is NPR TV critic Eric Deggans, who got up early this morning to watch the Netflix documentary as it was released to the public. Eric, there's been a lot of reporting on Britney's situation. What does this Netflix documentary tell us about Britney Spears and the conservatorship she's under?

ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Well, filmmaker Erin Lee Carr teamed up with journalist Jenny Eliscu to create this film, which kind of walks the viewer through how the conservatorship was initially created, how it operates and why so many people have questioned its existence. Now, there's a lot of material here, but if you've been loosely following this case, which involves this long fight by Britney Spears to hire her own attorney and remove her father Jamie Spears as her conservator, then you may know a fair amount that's covered here. But the filmmakers get these interviews with a lot of people close to the case, including former boyfriends, a former assistant, attorneys, an expert on conservatorships and even a geriatric psychologist who may have examined Spears. The film implies that the conservatorship created a severely constricted situation where Spears was isolated. She felt trapped. She didn't have control of her money or movements. But she was functional enough to perform on world tours and earn millions of dollars.

Now, in a key scene, Eliscu admits that she got actively involved in the story, taking legal papers into a bathroom in 2009 so that Spears could covertly sign a request that her court-appointed lawyer be replaced by an attorney of her choosing. We've got a clip of Eliscu talking about it. Let's listen.


JENNY ELISCU: Of course, I was concerned about being a participant in the story I was trying to cover objectively. There was no denying it at that point that I could be more useful as a good Samaritan almost than another journalist trying to cover this story.

DEGGANS: Now, that effort ultimately failed. But it's an unusual step for a journalist covering a story, and it gives you a sense of what their perspective is on this case.

MARTÍNEZ: Now, speaking of journalists, The New York Times documentary "Framing Britney Spears" seems to have ignited public interest in this story, and the producers of that project dropped a new film, "Controlling Britney Spears," on Friday. What's been the effect of all these documentaries?

DEGGANS: You're right. You know, "Framing Britney Spears," it was released in February. It shone a light on these efforts by Spears' fans to call attention to questions about the conservatorship. And after that film debuted, Spears finally gained the right to hire her own lawyer and request an end to the conservatorship. Now, this new film, "Controlling Britney Spears," featured an interview with a former employee of the security firm that guards the pop singer that alleged that listening devices were placed in her bedroom, and her cellphone and her iPad were mirrored, allowing the firm to monitor her activities. All these films have been trying to answer a few important questions. Why was such a conservatorship imposed? Was her father too controlling? Did he and others unfairly profit from it? How did it work? And why have the courts maintained it for so long?

MARTÍNEZ: Any sense of how these films might impact the hearing tomorrow?

DEGGANS: Well, I'm not a lawyer, but these films do create a terrible picture of the conservatorship, and they make a persuasive case that it deserves to be modified or reconsidered. And we'll see tomorrow if that actually happens.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thanks a lot.

DEGGANS: Thank you.


A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.

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