Sign up for the Guardian Today US newsletter
The legal fight over Britney Spearss finances and conservatorship is heading back to Los Angeles court on Thursday, days after a new documentary sparked widespread outrage about the controversial guardianship the pop star has been living under for years.
The case centers on the legal arrangement that has given Spearss father, Jamie Spears, control over her estate, career and other aspects of her personal life, including medical treatment, for the past 13 years.
Lawyers for the 39-year-old pop singer last year filed for Jamie to be removed as conservator, arguing in LA court she was afraid of her father and would not resume her career while he controlled it.
In November, the judge in the case declined to remove Jamie, but added Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator and corporate fiduciary. Thursdays hearing is expected to include a discussion of what role the co-conservators will play in overseeing Spearss estate.
Conservatorship is a form of court-appointed guardianship that is typically used for elderly and infirm people, or others who cant make decisions for themselves. The arrangement is often temporary, but Spears has remained under court control since her conservatorship was first adopted in 2008.
Spearss conservatorship state has been controversial for years, but is facing new scrutiny following the release of Framing Britney Spears, a New York Times-produced documentary that raised questions about the fraught process that led the courts to institute the conservatorship, Jamies role as a conservator, the motives of Spearss entourage in keeping the arrangement in place and the medias treatment of the star.
The documentary chronicled Spearss rise to fame amid intense abuse by paparazzi and media and the approval of the conservatorship at a time when American tabloids and news organizations were aggressively reporting on her mental health struggles.
It depicted Jamie as largely absent from his daughters life until he gained control of her finances, and detailed the circumstances around a judges 2008 decision to not allow the singer to choose her own lawyer. The film also included an interview with a lawyer who alleged that when he met with Spears in 2008, she told him she would accept the guardianship as long as her father was not the appointed conservator.
Framing Britney further raised questions about how the pop star could simultaneously be performing sold-out shows for her Las Vegas residency and making millions while also being considered incapable of making decisions about her finances and health.
And it raised poignant questions about American pop and media culture, surfacing archival footage of journalists asking inappropriate and invasive questions, paparazzi stalking her amid her mental breakdown, magazines maligning her during a high-profile breakup and talk show hosts ridiculing her public struggles.
The film also featured the #FreeBritney movement, a fan-led campaign advocating for the singer to be freed from conservatorship and from her fathers control. Organizers said this week they hoped the reaction to the film would put pressure on the courts to restore the singers independence.
Supporters of Britney Spears attend the #FreeBritney protest outside the Stanley Mosk courthouse in Los Angeles on 16 September 2020. Photograph: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
It has lit a fire under all of us to keep pushing, because we do have that support from the general public, Leanne Simmons, a #FreeBritney advocate who was featured in the documentary, told the Guardian. The 31-year-old, who works in post production in the film industry, has closely followed the court case and plans to attend the Thursday hearing in person. Weve been trying to get this message across for so many years, and to essentially have the narrative change overnight is pretty extraordinary.
It was hard to watch. It brought me back to that moment of watching this in realtime in 2007, said Simmons. I felt so frustrated back then like no one was listening to her, or to me when I would try to defend her. I cant believe it took this long and this documentary for people to realize that it was always wrong.
Representatives for Jamies lawyers declined to comment on Wednesday, but have previously argued in court that he has been a good steward of her finances and that his removal would be detrimental to the singer. He has fought for court proceedings to remain secretive while Britney Spearss lawyers have argued for greater transparency.
Spears publicly acknowledged the #FreeBritney movement for the first time last year, when her lawyer said in court that she was trying to regain some measure of personal autonomy and that she welcomes and appreciates the informed support of her many fans.
She hasnt directly commented on Thursdays hearing or the film, but on Tuesday she shared video on Instagram and Twitter of an old performance, writing, Ill always love being on stage but I am taking the time to learn and be a normal person, adding, Each person has their story and their take on other peoples stories !!!! Remember, no matter what we think we know about a persons life it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens.
Sign up for the Guardian Today US newsletter