Netflix’s “Britney vs Spears” is finally here.
Director and producer, Erin Lee Carr, narrates the entire documentary as she works alongside Rolling Stone reporter Jenny Eliscu, with both of them navigating through thousands of court papers and confidential documents regarding Britney Spears’ closely guarded conservatorship.
Carr begins the documentary, now available on Netflix, by stating she initially started working on a project, which would delve into Spears’ life, her “artistry and media portrayal.” But she learned the story was also about power and control — one full of conspiracy and rumors.
The documentary follows a chronological sequence, with the film briefly touching on Spears’ immense success in the late ‘90s going into the early Aughts. Then it discusses her relationship with her now ex-husband Kevin Federline, and how their tumultuous marriage and divorce led up to events regarding the conservatorship.
In 2006, Spears filed for divorce from Federline, citing irreconcilable differences. The divorce was finalized in 2007 with the two of them reaching an agreement for joint custody of their two sons, Sean and Jayden.
In January 2008, Spears reportedly refused to relinquish custody of her sons to Federline when her court-appointed time with them was up. She was then hospitalized after police noted she was under the influence of a substance. The following day, her visitation rights were suspended, giving Federline full legal and physical custody of their children. She then was placed under a temporary conservatorship, with her father Jamie Spears and attorney Andrew Wallet serving as co-conservators, giving them full control over her estate.
The 90-minute documentary features interviews from past lawyers, conservatorship experts and those who were close to Britney Spears, including her former assistant Felicia Culotta, who also spoke in the two New York Times’ documentaries about Spears, “Framing Britney Spears” and “Controlling Britney Spears.”
Those who were apparently directly involved in the legal arrangement, including Jamie, Wallet and her former management Tri Star Sports & Entertainment among others, declined to be interviewed.
Here, WWD breaks down the five biggest bombshells from Netflix’s “Britney vs Spears” documentary. Read on for more.
1. Dementia Was Listed as One of the Reasons of the Conservatorship
As Carr and Eliscu sifted through court documents, they stumbled upon one with Spears’ medical information that stated “orders related to dementia placement.”
Both agreed it was extremely strange especially for someone who was only in their 20s at the time — not to mention also successfully working, touring the world and still producing albums.
Additionally, in the fall of 2020, an anonymous source reached out to the filmmakers claiming they had “thousands of confidential documents and emails from most parties involved with the conservatorship.”
Included within these documents was a report created by a doctor who resigned from the case in 2013. The report, which was dated March 5, 2008, stated “Britney Jean Spears lacks the capacity to retain and direct counsel,” and “Britney Spears lacks the capacity to understand or manage her financial affairs without being subject to undue influence.”
Eliscu makes a point that as this report was being made, Spears was working. At the time, she was on the set of “How I Met Your Mother” playing a guest role. “The episode was out within two months of the conservatorship starting. How is someone who was that ill well enough to go to work?” she said.
As Carr looks through more of the medical documents, she realizes there is only one name listed in the original evaluation, which was James Edward Spar, a retired geriatric psychiatrist, whom she tracked down to speak with in the documentary. He states, though he is retired, he still does occasional consultations, some of which include contested conservatorships.
During their touchy interview, Spar and Carr go back and forth about Spears and whether he did or did not evaluate her, declining to comment overall on the case. “I’m not going to acknowledge that I’ve ever met her,” Spar said. “I’m not going to comment on whether I was ever brought in to evaluate Britney Spears.”
He then told Carr that if she could show him a document with his signature, he would only confirm his signature. “I’m not going to talk about whether anybody retained me to see anybody,” he said. “These are all confidential evaluations.”
He affirmed that the conservatorships he’s been involved with in the past have actually helped people, particularly those who need protection “from something.” He adds, “Mostly it is a predatory individual after someone’s money.”
2. Britney Spears’ Ex-Manager Sam Lutfi Says He was the ‘Perfect Scapegoat’
Sam Lutfi was Spears’ former manager and someone who became one of her confidants, but her parents did not like him. “Sam is the person frequently blamed by both of her parents for her public downfall,” Carr said.
The two actually first met at a bar and hit it off. The documents state Spears considered Lutfi a friend and semi-assistant. He says he acted as her manager.
They got close during Spears’ divorce from Federline, which was taking a heavy toll on her. She was allegedly not receiving help from any of her family members, especially not her father, who had been out of the picture for years. “There were numerous issues going on. Jamie was not involved at all. From what I believe, it had been years,” Lutfi said.
Because of Lutfi’s heavy involvement in Spears’ life, many considered him a problem, which led to the conservatorship.
Both Carr and Eliscu go through the documents once more, including the one regarding dementia. Eliscu then states, “When someone is being made a conservatee, they are entitled to five days heads-up so that if they want to contest it or find a lawyer, they have time to do that.” Spears, however, was not allotted that time, and it was allegedly because of Lutfi.
“The only reason given for depriving Britney of five days’ notice is that Sam Lutfi is dangerous and needs to be kept away,” Eliscu said.
Carr and Eliscu interview Lorilee Craker, the writer who co-authored Spears’ mother Lynne’s memoir “Through the Storm.” Craker states that Lutfi was a bad influence on Spears.
“That is something that I don’t think has really been portrayed correctly is the level of crisis at the moment the conservatorship began,” Craker said via video interview. “They felt they had to do it to protect Britney from Sam. He was crushing drugs and putting them in her food and bragging about it.” Carr can then be heard asking Craker if she believes the latter statement.
When asked about it in his interview, Lutfi denied that he had ever drugged Spears. “We have 100 blood tests and drug tests the entire time I was with her, and she passed every single one of them, which is why the police never came to my door,” he said. “No one ever called the police. To be accused of allegations that serious, that you’re drugging the world’s biggest star, you call the police, you call the FBI, you don’t call TMZ.
“I was the perfect scapegoat. I was new. They didn’t know who I was. I was just an expendable guy,” he said, explaining why he was portrayed the way he was by her family. “A five-day notice means she would have been notified that this was going to happen and she would’ve had the right to contest to it. She would have obviously contested to it, immediately, and they knew that and everyone knew that. They had to do everything possible to prevent that from happening.”
3. Britney Spears Attempted to Hire Different Representation Twice
At the onset of her conservatorship in 2008, Spears actually tried to attain her own legal counsel. She met with attorney Adam Streisand at his office and he agreed to be her representation to contest the conservatorship.
Streisand recalled that Spears told him she didn’t want her father to be her conservator and that she would prefer an independent professional. In his interview, he agreed that independent professionals are probably better for a conservator because “family relationships are always complex.”
However, when it came time for court, Streisand was dismissed. “The judge looked at me and said, ‘Mr. Streisand, I have a report that says [Spears] does not have the capacity to retain counsel and have an attorney-client relationship. So, I’m sorry, Mr. Streisand, but you’re not going to be able to represent her and I need to ask you to leave the courtroom.’ And I did.”
Instead, Sam Ingham became Spears’ court-appointed attorney and has been throughout the entirety of the conservatorship, until he recently stepped down in July.
In 2009, a year into her conservatorship, Lutfi and Spears’ ex-boyfriend Adnan Ghalib, were trying to conjure up a plan to find her a different lawyer, though both were completely forbidden to have access to her.
They enlisted the help of Eliscu, who had known Spears for a number of years, working on stories about her for Rolling Stone. Eliscu met with Spears at the Montage Beverly Hills, where they convened in a bathroom stall to have Spears sign the right paperwork in order for her to receive her own counsel.
When a few days passed, Eliscu found out that their attempt to hire Spears another lawyer was unsuccessful, which was similar to what happened with Streisand. “It had been ruled that she lacked capacity to choose her own lawyer, and that they had cast enough doubt on to whether that was her signature,” Eliscu said. “I never heard anything of it again. No one ever talked about it again. Still, no one talks about the fact that there was another attempt to get a lawyer that somehow didn’t work out.”
On July 6, 2021, Ingham stepped down as Spears’ lawyer. He reportedly made nearly $3 million over the course of the conservatorship. A few days later, it was revealed she had hired Mathew Rosengart as her new representation. The next court hearing regarding Spears’ conservatorship is Sept. 29.
Earlier this month, Jamie also agreed to step down as conservator and filed a petition to end the legal agreement.
4. The Conservatorship Was in ‘Chaos’ During and After the ‘Femme Fatale’ Tour
While Spears was on her ‘Femme Fatale’ tour, which concluded at the end of 2011, she and Jamie experienced “significant tensions.”
“Britney began to complain about Jamie’s drinking,” Carr said as she reads a document aloud. “She is especially adamant that Jamie be punished. This seems to be a lightning rod for all her complaints about the conservatorship itself. In a simple way she feels that if she is drug tested, so should he be. And if she were to suffer a great penalty like losing her kids if she tested positive, he should suffer an equally great penalty for his drinking.”
Additionally, another document cited that Spears wanted to get out of the conservatorship, which had been heavily refuted by her management, who said she had not requested or filed to be released from it.
“Britney wants to come off the conservatorship. At times she seems to understand the benefits of the conservatorship,” Carr said, reading from the document. “At other times, she indicates she would go along with the conservatorship of the estate. But mostly she wants to end the conservatorship of the person.”
As the tour concluded, Spears also became engaged to her boyfriend Jason Trawick, whom she had been dating since 2009. Trawick mentioned that the conservatorship was “too constrictive.” Eliscu and Carr then read instances in which Spears and Trawick had to get permission for things like driving a golf cart through a gated community, having to wait 20 minutes before leaving to grab a burger and waiting a few days to get a few hundred dollars approved for Spears to purchase books for her sons.
Trawick was also added as a co-conservator on Spear’s conservatorship, at her request. Though Carr and Eliscu pointed out that it was strange that he became a co-conservator with Jamie rather than replacing him entirely.
In 2012, Spears signed a $15 million deal to be a judge on “X-Factor,” but this arrangement allegedly put the whole conservatorship in “chaos.” According to documents, Spears’ medical team claimed “X-Factor” put “undue pressure” on Spears, while her management said withdrawing from the deal would be just as bad.
Apparently, there was also evidence that Spears’ medication would be increased if she worked, with Eliscu reading a document that stated there’d be different dosages on “non-work days and work days.”
“On the one hand, Jamie and others on the team valued the benefits of stimulants for Britney’s performance,” the document read. “This had been the case for both of her tours and for her participation on ‘X-Factor.’ By the same token, Jamie wanted Britney not to take stimulants. This contradiction has not been resolved.”
5. Britney Spears Penned a Secret, Emotional Letter in Response to Kevin Federline’s People Cover
In December 2008, Federline appeared on the cover of People magazine with their children, which upset Spears, who was working on an MTV documentary called “For the Record” with Andrew Gallery at the time.
Gallery grew close to Spears as he was filming her frequently. Spears decided to write a letter in response to her ex-husband’s story, handing the note to Gallery and asking if he could read it on live television.
“What happened to Britney was a year ago and people need to get with the times. And as far as Kevin saying Britney divorced him, she was forced to by her lawyers because she went to visit him in New York and he wouldn’t see her and the children, and her lawyers said if she doesn’t divorce him he’s going to do it himself,” the letter read. “So Kevin trying to play the innocent victim is hardly irrelevant. He left her and the babies. Her going on the mend, partying two years ago has nothing to do with the situation now.
“She is a completely different person and most of their fighting was done back then because of his problem waking and baking to marijuana at 5 in the morning. No one talks about these things because no one knows the truth,” the letter continued. “She was lied to and set up. Her children were taken away and she did spin out of control, which any mother would in those circumstances. Now this year, Britney has been silenced to speak about anything that’s really going on.
“The people controlling her life have made $3 million this year. She would love for new eyes to see her situation, but if she brings it up she’s constantly threatened that the conservators will take her kids away,” it concluded. “So how long does this go on for? As long as the people are getting paid, she has no rights; it could go on for awhile but it doesn’t make it right at all.”
In spite of it all, Gallery never ended up reading the letter on TV, but he did take a picture of it before showing it to her team, which apparently set off “a huge fire alarm.” Afterward, Gallery stopped working with Spears, and actually has not seen or spoken to her since.
“We had developed a good trust. Maybe we were too close at that point. Shortly after that, I got removed,” he said in the documentary. “I actually don’t think I’ve spoken to her since, and, you know, Britney had met a bunch of my friends. She had sort of come into my life. It was sad to think that she was going to be alone again.”
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