Unpacking #FreeBritney: The fan-lead movement explained

Unpacking #FreeBritney: The fan-lead movement explained

With Britney Spears’ legal battle to overturn her conservatorship making headlines as of late, fans have once again echoed their calls to #FreeBritney. OTR Contributor, Emily Schinella, explains why. (Image source: Getty Images)

By Emily Schinella |@emily_schinella

Log on to Twitter or any other social media platform lately and you’ll likely see the hashtag #FreeBritney fluttering around. It’s a movement spearheaded by concerned Britney Spears fans, convinced the star wants to be freed from her legally binding conservatorship that has been in place since 2008. The hashtag began trending last year and has gained momentum again thanks to the release of the New York Times’ new documentary, Framing Britney Spears, which asses the highs and brutal lows of her decades long career.

Britney has been under the conservatorship, which is overseen by her father, Jamie Spears, since her very public breakdown over 12 years ago. Many pop culture fans will recall the star’s mental health struggles, including the infamous head-shaving incident and when she charged at prying photographers with an umbrella. This resulted in the star being hospitalised and placed on a 5150 involuntary psychiatric hold.

Despite this, Britney beat the odds and enjoyed a stellar comeback thanks to albums like Circus, successful tours, a sell-out Las Vegas residency and a multi-million-dollar perfume deal. But even among a sea of career highs, at 38 years of age, the singer remains under the guise of her father despite several attempts to have this changed and fans are not having it.

Below, we unpack what this conservatorship means for the star and why fans are demanding to #FreeBritney.

What is a conservatorship?

According to the Superior Court of California, a conservatorship is a term in the United States which allows a judge to grant a guardian (or multiple guardians) financial control over a person’s estate if it is determined that they are mentally or physically unable to do so on their own. Usually, conservatorships are only granted temporarily. However, they can be made permanent if it is deemed necessary. Aside from overseeing their finances and assets, a conservator often manages the person’s daily life, overseeing important life decisions such as their living arrangements, health decisions, whether or not they can vote and more. Essentially, it’s like guardianship for adults. 

The Britney conservatorship ordeal

The conditions of the singer’s 12-year conservatorship dictate what she gets to spend her vast fortune on, where she lives, where she goes every day, her career opportunities, what documents she can and can’t sign as well as who she interacts with. Spears was placed under the conservatorship during an incredibly mentally challenging time for the star. A time where many onlookers and media outlets pointed their fingers and laughed rather than acknowledging that she was suffering. But things are different for the star now. She seems to be in a much better place personally and professionally, having had a pretty solid career and personal life since. This is why cracks have begun to appear in the Spears camp. Since July last year, Britney has been in a legal battle with her father as she is trying to have him removed as her conservator. The singer even stated that she wouldn’t sing again if her father was in control of her career, alleging that she was “afraid of him”.  

Why do fans want to #FreeBritney?

Things started to unravel back in early 2019 when it was announced that the singer’s second residency, Domination, would be put on hold indefinitely. At the time, the shelved show was blamed on her father’s dwindling health. Taking to Instagram, the ‘Gimme More’ hitmaker admitted that she was “grateful” her father was alive but noted that he still had a long road to recovery.

“I had to make the difficult decision to put my full focus and energy on my family at this time,” she (Britney) said at the time in a post featuring the photo of the star as a young child with her parents Jamie and Lynn.

Things then went radio silent which, as a frequent poster on Instagram, was out of character for the star. Weeks later it would emerge that Britney had entered a mental health facility due to stress over her father’s health. It was this incident that got the ball rolling. Fans and internet sleuths alike were convinced there was more to the story than what meets the eye. The main consensus claims Britney is being controlled by those around her and she wants out. She wants to live life on her terms like any other 39-year-old woman. Or at the very least, wants the autonomy to hire her own legal counsel.

These days, the star keeps a relatively low profile, aside from the quirky little videos she posts on Instagram showing off her dance moves. Naturally, fans analyse these videos and posts with a fine-tooth comb. Some have even interpreted the unusual dance videos as the star attempting to communicate to the public that she is being held hostage in her own home. Members of the public have started a Change.org petition to help the star hire her lawyer. It has since garnered over 100,000 signatures. Things really ramped up mid-2020 when fans turned up to a courthouse (masks and all) wearing t-shirts and carrying posters plastered with the message #FreeBritney ahead of the star’s hearing where it was determined that her conservatorship would be extended until February of 2021.

Fortunately for the star, there has been a few minor wins in her battle recently. Last Thursday, February 11,  a judge denied Britney’s father’s bid to retain full control over her investments. This means a hedge-fund management company, Bessemer Trust Co. (who were appointed last year by a judge), will remain as co-conservators. While this is a nice little win, it is clear the star still has a long way to go with additional hearings scheduled for March 17 and April 27, 2021.

One thing for certain is that fans will be supporting her in her battle every step of the way.

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