How a fan movement freed a pop star from her gilded cage

Britney Spears and the #FreeBritney movement

Photo illustration by Mark Riechers. Original images by Drew de F Fawkes (CC BY 2.0) and Mike Maguire (CC BY 2.0)

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In 2008, Britney Spears was one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. She was a young mother, with two children under age 4. She was famously unstable, and constantly hounded by paparazzi. And then her life seemed to fall apart. She lost custody of her children in a messy divorce, wound up arrested and committed to a psych ward. At age 26, a court-sanctioned conservatorship gave her father legal control of her fortune and even her body.  

Spears later testified in court that under the conservatorship, she was drugged, compelled to perform, and prevented from removing her birth control device. When fans started the "Free Britney" movement, it was initially treated as something of a joke. But it wasn’t. Charles Monroe-Kane asked filmmaker Samantha Stark to take us back.