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The Battle for Britney: An engaging watch – but doesn’t shed new light

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The Battle for Britney: An engaging watch - but doesn’t shed new light
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raming Britney Spears felt like essential viewing upon its release in February. The documentary, produced by the New York Times, sparked a long overdue reassessment of the toxic celebrity culture of the Noughties, when baiting female stars became a blood sport and talk show hosts would grill girls in their late teens about their sex lives on primetime television.

It prompted the singer’s ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake to issue a public apology (delivered through the medium of Notes App, naturally) to Spears, acknowledging that his actions – which included casting a Britney lookalike in the video for his first solo single Cry Me A River, playing up to speculation that she’d been unfaithful – “contributed to the problem.” And it raised major questions about the star’s court-approved conservatorship, which was imposed after her high profile 2007 breakdown, and placed her multi-million dollar trust under the control of her father Jamie.

Since then, a flurry of Britney-related projects have been green-lit, including a Netflix documentary. The singer, who did not appear in or provide comment for the NYT’s movie, has admitted in an Instagram post that she was “embarrassed by the light [the film] put me in,” adding: “I cried for two weeks and I still cry sometimes.” The speed with which the industry has jumped on the Britney bandwagon after the first film’s success raises some uncomfortable questions: is this new obsession with the singer’s legal struggle over her conservatorship just another form of exploitation, dressed up as empowerment?

Azhar heads to America to attend the latest court hearing in the ongoing conservatorship row

/ BBC/Forest Ventures Limited

First in this secondary wave of Britney docs is the BBC’s offering. The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship is presented by journalist Mobeen Azhar and, in fairness, was in the works before Framing Britney Spears proved so successful. Azhar, who describes the conservatorship row as “the biggest scandal in showbusiness,” travelled to Los Angeles last December after securing access to a court hearing discussing the case.

His initial investigations bring him face to face (or, in some cases, Zoom to Zoom) with some of Spears’ biggest fans, driving forces in the #FreeBritney movement that has made her conservatorship a trending topic. Their emotional investment in the case is huge. “She can’t even make a phone call,” speculates super-fan Hayley, who later suggests that even if the campaign proves futile, her “kids’ kids will free Britney if they have to.” Some fans claim to see cryptic cries for help in Spears’ Instagram posts: social media has certainly helped draw attention to the singer’s case, but there’s a darker side, too. When Spears’ former business manager Lou Taylor’s legal team reply to a request for comment from Azhar, they attach screenshots of death threats she has received from a minority of fans.

Azhar later heads to Spears’ hometown of Kentwood, Louisiana, to learn more about the star’s early years, before talking to Catherine Falk, whose actor father Peter (best known as TV’s Columbo) was placed under a contentious conservatorship in 2009; he also speaks to Perez Hilton, who frequently targeted Spears on his blog at the peak of her mental health issues, and has since suggested that her conservatorship has actually protected her, as well as unrepentant paparazzo Rick Mendoza, who worked for TMZ around the same time. He’s an engaging presenter, with a scrupulously balanced approach, and his subjects quickly open up to him.

Gossip blogger Perez Hilton is among Azhar’s interview subjects

/ BBC/Forest Ventures Limited

His short interview with Hilton is fascinating. It’d be a stretch to claim that the gossip blogger – who added vitriolic captions like “I need drugs” and “Unfit mother” onto photos of Spears published on his site around the time of her breakdown – emerges as a sympathetic figure, but his assessment of the role he might have played in pushing the singer to breaking point are stark and self-aware. “It was awful, I regret that deeply,” he says, before claiming: “If I were to die tomorrow, the majority of the world would celebrate. And it’s OK, because I am reaping the consequences of my actions.”

As Azhar learns more about conservatorships, what quickly emerges is a snapshot of a deeply rotten system that is “rife with exploitation,” as he puts it. Falk describes it as “one of the most lucrative money-making machines in the United States,” ominously suggesting “you will never get out of a guardianship” when others have a financial stake in your powerlessness.

What his film lacks, though, is insider insight. While the NYT’s film was bolstered by the involvement of the singer’s former assistant and confidante Felicia Culotta, the closest Azhar gets to Spears is a chat with her former choreographer Brian Friedman. Much of the footage – a 10-year-old Britney singing on TV, paparazzi swarming her car, the clip from her 2008 MTV series which marked the first and only time she spoke publicly about her conservatorship – will also feel familiar from Framing Britney Spears.

The December hearing comes as an anti-climax – ending the conservatorship isn’t even referenced – and Azhar suggests that the case will continue to go round in circles, like some kind of celebrity Jarndyce vs Jarndyce. His only conclusion is that it’s impossible to come to a conclusion – especially while Spears herself remains silent.

“Remember, no matter what we think we know about a person’s life, it is nothing compared to the actual person living behind the lens,” the star wrote in an Instagram post shortly after the NYT documentary aired. She is set to address her conservatorship in court on June 23. Perhaps that’s when we’ll finally get some answers – until then, documentaries like this one can only really speculate.

The Battle for Britney: Fans, Cash and a Conservatorship is on BBC iPlayer from May 1 and airs on BBC Two on May 5 at 9pm

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Leigh-Anne: Pop, Race & Power – a transferring seem at new music industry racism

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Leigh-Anne: Pop, Race & Power - a moving look at music industry racism

We have seen white male dominance, misogyny, sexism and lack of diversity,” Leigh-Anne Pinnock told the crowd as she and her Small Mix bandmates Perrie Edwards and Jade Thirlwall acknowledged the Brit Award for Best British Group on Tuesday night time, becoming the to start with ever woman group to gain in the ceremony’s 24-year background. “We’re very pleased of how we’ve trapped with each other, stood our ground, surrounded ourselves with strong women, and are now utilizing our voices a lot more than ever.”

The speech felt like a mission assertion, and in Race, Pop & Energy, a new documentary which arrives on BBC One days after the band’s historic victory, Pinnock shows she’s dedicated to applying that voice to question difficult concerns about how black ladies are dealt with in the British tunes industry.

As the only black member of 1 of the world’s most significant woman bands, Pinnock has a exceptional point of view, and as her film commences, the singer is reassessing her encounters. When the team reached the live finals of The X Issue in 2011, all 4 underwent the obligatory talent demonstrate makeover, but Pinnock’s new seem, with half her head shaved and the relaxation dyed vibrant crimson, seemed made to present her as “the Rihanna” of the band – as if there was only a person way to be a young, black pop star. On their initially online video shoot, choreographer Frank Gatson, now Beyoncé’s inventive director, took her aside to warn her: “You’re the black female, you have to get the job done 10 times tougher.”

Pinnock meets up with Little Mix bandmate Jade Thirlwall, correct

/ BBC/Dragonfly

Then, as Minor Mix travelled the planet, she felt “like persons would glance past me,” as she was satisfied with muted cheers or passed around by fans who’d rush to fulfill Edwards, Thirlwall and Jesy Nelson. This lurking sense of invisibility tarnished what ought to have been the time of her lifestyle. In 1 quietly heartbreaking clip from a softball promo job interview, a succession of younger girls are asked to identify which member of the band they experience most related to. None of them picks Pinnock, who smiles through the slight like a professional. “All of these very little inner thoughts, you can think about, they just built up,” she sighs, looking back at the footage.

Galvanised by past summer’s Black Life Matter protests, Pinnock meets with other black British musicians, like fellow X Aspect winner Alexandra Burke and former Sugababe Keisha Buchanan. Quite a few of their stories have the similar refrains: becoming painted as a bully if they attempted to assert themselves, obtaining their self-confidence knocked back again. The singer Raye, meanwhile, claims that she was made to truly feel as if she experienced to “suppress” her black heritage to become a a lot more marketable artist. As their discussion moves to colourism, Pinnock asks herself:  “If I was dark skinned, would I be in Little Blend?” Another awkward but vital discussion arrives when she confronts her footballer fiancé Andre Grey about tweets he posted in 2012, which built offensive references to dim-skinned black women of all ages.

Keisha Buchanan and Alexandra Burke share their encounters

/ BBC/Dragonfly

So a lot of audio documentaries are so carefully phase managed that they develop into an extended branding exercising, but like the rest of BBC Three’s new spate of persuasive, superstar-led docs, Pinnock’s movie feels far more reliable. “I’d instead say some thing and not say it fully correct than say nothing,” she says. As a presenter, she’s admirably candid, thoughtfully addressing criticism about whether she, as a gentle-skinned black lady, is the suitable particular person to deal with these subjects on screen (though acknowledging that this criticism originally felt hurtful).

You can also experience her annoyance when, right after she attempts to arrange a meeting with leading stage execs at her history label to get their Black Lives Matter messaging past the infamous social media “black square”, she is provided a discussion with a marketing director, who just comes about to be yet another black woman, instead. “It’s nearly like, ‘OK, let’s set two black people today in a place to remedy the problem of racism!’” she states, with an exaggerated shrug.

Irrespective of this hurdle, though, her shifting, considerate movie finishes on a tentatively hopeful note. It’s very clear that the tempo of modify in the sector is sluggish (a adhere to-up documentary would be appealing) but Pinnock vows that she will “keep pushing” as this is “just the beginning” of her activism: “I really don’t want the up coming woman in pop to occur up and at any time come to feel like I have felt,” she notes. Pop stars shouldn’t generally have to be position models, but she is a excellent 1 nonetheless.

Leigh-Anne: Race, Pop and Energy is accessible to stream on BBC iPlayer and is on BBC One particular, 9pm on May well 13

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