One of the most famous popstars of our pop culture generation, Britney Spears, may finally be able to see the end of an oppressive conservatorship on the horizon. Fourteen years on from the memorable shorn head and umbrella-armed siege on paparazzi that signalled her decline, Britney has found her voice. September 29th, 2021, an important date in her bid for freedom, for it was the first with her new lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, the first representative entirely invested in her safety and most importantly, ready to do whatever it takes to #freebritney.
During 2008, Britney’s father, Jamie Spears, told the world that Britney was seriously mentally ill after she barricaded herself in a bathroom with her two children. As a result, a temporary conservatorship was approved by the court, putting Jamie and the court in charge of every part of Britney’s life. The conservatorship was made permanent not long after and has remained in place for the last thirteen years. The legalities surrounding the conservatorship put Jamie in control of his daughter’s work commitments, finances, medical decisions, image, social life, and companionship, a concerningly autocratic position for a man, regardless of his kin. His close relationship with the press, in particular Hollywood gossip website ‘TMZ’, also enabled Jamie to steer the subsequent narrative of Britney’s life, using it to manipulate and control both Britney and the public.
In the state of California, a conservatorship is typically approved for people with severely diminished capabilities – people who are unable to feed, clothe or shelter themselves – not for people with mental health conditions or addiction problems. As a person considered to have diminished capabilities, it is nonsensical to learn that Britney began an enduring promotional tour across the world for The Circus shortly after the implementation of the conservatorship. For her to undertake this work it would need to have been approved by both Jamie Spears and the court. Immediately it sounds as if the conservatorship was manufactured for the gain of others. Netflix’s recent movie release I Care a Lot is perhaps the easiest way to understand the manipulation and financial gain of conservatorship management.
“Considering my family has lived off my conservatorship for 13 years, I won’t be surprised if one of them has something to say going forward, and say, “We don’t think this should end, we have to help her.” Especially if I get my fair turn exposing what they did to me.”Britney Spears
Britney tells us that her father “revelled in the control” he was able to exercise over her; perhaps then, this wasn’t all about money but dominance and ego. Britney had spoken publicly about her father’s alcoholism and the division it had caused in the family – perhaps Jamie saw Britney’s downfall as an opportunity to reprimand his adult child for the shame she had caused him, a way to remind her that he will always be in the position of power, despite her overwhelming and overruling success. In the interim years before the beginning of the conservatorship breakdown (2019), Jamie led the world to believe Britney was happy with the arrangement. She was working hard producing new music and had two incredibly successful residencies in Las Vegas, she was certainly earning a lot of money, but was she happy or was she being quietly oppressed?
“I’ve told the whole world I’m ok and I’m happy, it’s a lie. I’m not happy […] I can’t sleep. I’m so angry it’s insane. I’m depressed.”Britney Spears
It turned out, during those interim years Britney did campaign for her conservatorship to be dissolved on many occasions in closed-door court hearings, each time being rejected by the judge, most likely because of well-timed leaks to TMZ that continued to question her sanity and decision-making capabilities. For a while she gave up, the oppression continued. Fighting was making life harder, each time she was punished with abusive control whether it be financially, personally, or physically, with gruelling work schedules. It was in 2019, when Britney refused to begin the Domination residency without a break beforehand, that the cracks began to form in the conservatorship. As punishment for delaying the start of the residency, Jamie forced Britney into a mental health facility against her will, one of the few things that legally, he couldn’t do. In a closed-door hearing the same year, Britney’s lawyer, Sam Ingham, told the judge: “She had felt coerced to perform and to enter a mental health facility against her will”, and yet still the conservatorship was not disbanded. As word spread of Jamie’s abuse of power, the #FreeBritney movement began in earnest, supporters who were once dubbed conspiracy theorists, were now joined by legions of loyal Britney fans who campaigned across the world for the dissolution of the hostile conservatorship.
Following Britney’s psychiatric admission, her next attempt to end the conservatorship in late 2020 became a sensational, public scandal; much to Jamie’s dismay the case was now public property, and everyone was in Britney’s corner. Alarmingly Britney was left with a bill of $530,000 for reparative media coverage for her fatther, but unfortunately for him, the world had already decided it was too late. To fuel this fire, in early 2021 the world began to learn just how bad the last 13 years of Britney’s life had been when court documents from the interim years were finally unsealed. At this point the #FreeBritney movement became about more than just freeing pop star Britney Spears, it also became a human rights movement that aimed to raise awareness of abusive conservatorships and help empower trapped individuals.
“It’s embarrassing and demoralising what I’ve been through.”Britney Spears
On June 23rd, 2021, Britney Spears spoke personally in court for the first time in many years, reading out over the phone a prepared statement which ran 20 minutes and covered everything from how she felt about the conservatorship to the abuses of Jamie’s power. Britney stated that she was unable to own a phone, drive her car alone, get married, or even have more children because her wish to remove an IUD had been refused. Jamie’s lucrative contract negotiations for Britney often earnt him direct kickbacks, and so despite her desire to retire he secured two long-term Las Vegas residencies – at which she was once forced to work with a fever over 40°C – two world tours, and a new album contract. Most of all, Britney demonstrated in her statement, a desire to simply be able to make decisions about her life without being told “no” by her conservators. Although Judge Brenda Penny did not end the conservatorship on this date, she did grant Britney’s appeal to be able to choose her own lawyer, a landmark victory for Britney who had been working for 13 years with court appointed lawyer, Sam Ingham, someone far from equipped for the intensity and depth to this case
Mathew Rosengart, Britney Spears’ chosen lawyer, is described as “the go-to litigator for Hollywood’s elite” having previously represented Sean Penn, Steven Spielberg, and more. His arrival suggests a more aggressive argument for ending the conservatorship lays ahead. Rosengart’s first victory lay in having Jamie spears suspended as conservator despite the father’s sudden voluntary acquiescence to step down as conservator. So, why did Rosengart not accept this seemingly easy end? To do so would have prevented him, and his team, from investigationg Jamie’s role as conservator – if the conservatorship had been dissolved at this point it would not have later been possible. Britney has certainly made it abundantly clear she wants nothing more than the guilty to go to jail for what they did to her, and it seems Rosengart is on the case.
What’s next? A further court date has been scheduled for November 12th, 2021, when it is Rosengart’s “hope and expectation” that the conservatorship will be ended. Fingers crossed Britney will finally get what she has been fighting over 13 years for. A life.
“If I wasn’t under these restraints that I’m under right now […] I’d feel so liberated and feel like myself.”Britney Spears
For further, intricate details about this case, we recommend following @houseinhabit on Instagram. Jessica Kraus is a civic journalist who is consumed by pop culture drama and, as such, has a number of highly detailed highlights on her Instagram account.