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‘Coaching Britney Spears’ and a review of the movement’s queer voices

Since she was a teenager Britney Spears, 39, has learned what her sexuality is supposed to be and what it should look like. She has been vilified, questioned, and ashamed for kissing her, and someone in power once said that Spears’ sexuality was so threatening that she would welcome “the opportunity to shoot him.”

There is a group of people who relate to this.

Standing outside Los Angeles Superior Court last year, Kevin Wu, an activist in the #FreeBritney movement, addressed the crowd with a megaphone, saying of Spears: “She gave me permission to being myself growing up as a gay boy in suburban Virginia and Britney gave me the power to be who I am.

Protesters at the #FreeBritney protest outside the Los Angeles courthouse on October 14, 2020.Rodin Eckenroth file / Getty Images

The crowd – who have gathered to protest Spears’ guardianship since 2008 – applauded and nodded in agreement, their signs saying things like “Justice for Britney”, “Britney Spears deserves her freedom” and “Free Britney, bitch!”

This scene was featured in the opening sequence of the recently released Hulu and FX documentary “Framing Britney Spears,” produced by The New York Times and directed by queer filmmaker Samantha Stark, 38. The film is his first feature film.

“It’s in the first three minutes, and it’s on purpose, because a lot of the loudest voices in the #FreeBritney movement are queer voices,” Stark said of the scene, adding that she considered ” absolutely “that weirdness when she thought of Spears and the movement to challenge the trusteeship.

“She can’t choose where she lives. She can’t sign a check. She can’t sign a contract. She can’t choose what to do with her money, ”Stark said of Spears’ court-ordered arrangement, in which her father, James Spears, was in charge of his affairs. Although he’s now a co-curator, his daughter has called for his full removal.

“I think that’s why people have such a deep connection to her,” Stark said. “She is always being told who she can be and what she can do, at an exponential level. This has a certain resonance for the LGBTQ community.

Spears has a long history of advocating for the queer community and received the 2018 GLAAD Vanguard Award in recognition of her support. This support includes his opposition to bills in Texas that would have restricted the rights of transgender people, his participation in a tribute in honor of the victims of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, and his support to the legalization of same-sex marriage. She also spoke out against the bullying of LGBTQ youth.

Britney Spears performs at the SAP Center in San Jose, Ca., December 3, 2016.Steve Jennings File / Getty Images

Stark said the advocacy against bullying is one of the reasons queer fans feel so connected to Spears and are strong advocates for his well-being. Many Spears fans grew up with her, thriving listening to her music, many enduring bullying themselves as they watched Spears be bullied – first by the media and the paparazzi, and now, they claim, by the powers behind its tutelage. .

This is in contrast to Spears in the early years of his career. “I think Britney from everything I’ve heard was really involved in creating her image and really trying so hard to be herself and was totally ridiculed and ashamed for it,” Stark said. .

Part of Stark’s film examines the period around the 1999 release of Spears’ debut album, “… Baby One More Time,” which catapulted her to stardom. Famously – and at the time, quite controversial – the titular song was paired with a music video featuring Spears in a schoolgirl uniform.

“She owns the halls of this school,” New York Times critic Wesley Morris said in the documentary. “If you’re 12 or 13, you see someone calling you back. It’s not the sexual part that looks cool – it’s the control and control over herself and her space that looks cool.

For LGBTQ kids who were growing up at the time in places where school halls weren’t something they had at best and somewhere they feared at worst, it was powerful. Spears’ control over herself, the way she took up space, and her unapologetic embrace of her own sexuality created a bond with queer fans that was enduring and mutually felt by Spears, according to Stark.

“Most of the people I’ve spoken to who speak out in the #FreeBritney movement are in their late twenties, early thirties, so they were 11 and 12, 13 when Britney was dating, and they so saw that, and I think it’s that deep connection that’s not going one way, actually, ”Stark said, adding that a Spears confidant featured in the movie said Spears felt embraced by his fans and not judged. “So if you were judged and criticized, that means you bonded with her, and she was related to you, in turn.

The same things fans loved about Spears threatened others, and headlines in the early 2000s called for things like “Too Sexy, Too Soon?” and said her sexuality “makes some moms nervous.” This line of criticism was amplified in 2003 with Kendel Ehrlich, then the first lady of Maryland, who said – at an anti-domestic violence conference, ironically – “If I had a chance to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would.

Britney’s response at the time? “Ew” and “I’m not here to, you know, babysit her kids.”

Britney Spears performs at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards in New York City on August 28, 2016.Lucas Jackson / Reuters File

The media have been relentless in their criticism of Spears, and the film shows the overwhelming herds of paparazzi descending on her wherever she has gone, taking photos that would be used to attack her in the press the next day.

“They would ridicule her no matter what she did,” Stark said, adding that the constant taunting and criticism was something that LGBTQ fans of Spears could relate to. “I’ve heard so many stories of people saying, ‘This is how I felt. I wanted to be the perfect brother, and I wanted to be the perfect son, but I knew that whatever I did, I would always be the wrong kid because I was gay. ”

Stark’s film includes a review of the period around 2007, when Spears shaved his head, an act which was considered his great loss, a physical manifestation of his disentanglement, and evidence of his “breakdown.” However, when viewed through a strange lens, it may not read the same. In fact, Stark revealed that she “dramatically” shaved her head at age 21 “with a clipper” because she “didn’t want to be feminine” (this reporter, also a queer woman, shaved the head at about the same age).

“I think this resonated with a lot of us watching,” said Stark, who turned 16 the same day “… Baby One More Time” was released. She said he was “furious” that someone could be “considered mad or classically hysterical” for shaving their head.

Stark remembers seeing magazine covers about the incident at the time and not knowing why Spears was cutting all of her hair meant she was “crazy.” Shortly after the release of these magazines, Spears’ sanity would be used by the media as a weapon against her and as a way to discredit her and declare her unfit as a mother. The year after shaving her head, she was locked in guardianship.

“We now know Britney wasn’t perfect,” Wu, the #FreeBritney activist, says in the film. “Britney had to navigate being told who she could be and what she could do. I think this whole thing of control and identity really resonates.

Spears did not participate in “Framing Britney Spears”, although Stark said she attempted to contact Spears through all available channels. Stark called Spears ‘lack of input an “ethical conflict,” but said she never assumed what was in Spears’ mind. In fact, she added, she didn’t have to, since Spears has been saying what she’s been thinking for a long time.

“Britney says, ‘I’m talking, but no one is listening to me,’” Stark said, paraphrasing a clip from a 2008 documentary starring Spears, where she tearfully speaks of her guardianship. “It also feels like Britney songs all the time literally say, ‘She’s so lucky, she’s a star, but she’s crying’, ‘give me more’, everyone wants a ‘ piece of me ”. They’re very like, ‘I’m saying this, why don’t you listen to me?’ “

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