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CNN Special Reports
Toxic: Britney Spears' Battle for Freedom. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired September 26, 2021 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: The following is a CNN SPECIAL REPORT.
ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Tonight, pop icon Britney Spears and her fight to take back control of her life.
(On-camera): Good evening. I'm Alisyn Camerota.
CHLOE MELAS, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: And I'm Chloe Melas. Britney Spears has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide over her more than two-decade career. Her songs are the soundtrack of a generation.
CAMEROTA: She's also made countless headlines, thanks to her accomplishments but more because of a series of personal struggles. The fascination and concerns surrounding Britney has reached fever pitch over the past few months.
MELAS: What started out as a grassroots campaign turned into a full pledged crusade to end Britney's controversial conservatorship. There have been so many twists and turns to this story recently, and it feels like new developments almost every day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Free Britney Spears.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: There is a massive media presence out here. The stakes are so high.
MELAS (voice-over): Summer 2021.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: End the conservatorship now.
MELAS: Britney Spears' long simmering battle for freedom explodes into public view.
ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Today we hear from the pop icon herself in court.
MELAS: On June 23rd at the Los Angeles Superior Courthouse, the pop star gets her first real chance to speak her truth.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She said the conservatorship was abusive.
CABRERA: She said she's been given lithium against her will.
VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: She says she's not allowed to remove her IUD contraceptive from her own body even though she wants to have another child.
ANGELINA CHAPIN, SENIOR WRITER, NEW YORK MAGAZINE'S THE CUT: It was absolutely shocking. Nobody expected this, not even her fans.
RONAN FARROW, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE NEW YORKER: It was one of the most arresting things I've heard in my career as a journalist.
MELAS: Ronan Farrow was listening live as Spears testified virtually. She pleaded for the end of her court ordered conservatorship. The arrangement that has been controlling her life and finances for more than 13 years.
FARROW: She was lucid, she was furious, she was cogently acknowledging that she might have some mental health issues to confront but also laying out a detailed case for how she was exploited. She used the word enslaved.
MELAS: That audio testimony has now been sealed by the judge but the impact has been profound.
LORI MAJEWSKI, ENTERTAINMENT REPORTER: She spoke so quickly. It was almost like she had to get everything out as quickly as she could because she was afraid they were going to take the microphone away.
ROSIE O'DONNELL, HOST, THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW, 1996-2002: Yes, it broke my heart. It made me cry when I heard it.
MELAS: Rosie O'Donnell says she became close to Britney after interviewing Spears on her TV show many times over the years. Even going on tour with her.
O'DONNELL: We've known about it for so long. And she's been afraid to speak out about it. And I have a belief in her ability to get herself out of this horrible enslavement that she has found herself trapped in.
MELAS (on-camera): You've tried to reach her over the years?
O'DONNELL: Yes, I've reached out to her. We haven't connected. I always send, you know, notes, sometimes when she would go to the Four Seasons, I would go down to the spa to see if I could bump into her, you know, to say, hey, kid, how are you doing? You know. I just love her.
MELAS (voice-over): That 23 minutes of jaw-dropping testimony tore down a very carefully constructed facade built over years.
BRITNEY SPEARS, SINGER, POP ICON: Next question is, am I OK? Yes, I'm totally fine. I'm extremely happy. I have a beautiful home, beautiful children.
MELAS: This Instagram post came just two months before the explosive hearing.
SPEARS: I'm taking a break right now because I'm enjoying myself.
MELAS: But Spears said in her court testimony that she was lying about being happy and that she had been in denial.
MAJEWSKI: Imagine for so many years she had to pretend.
MELAS: Journalist Lori Majewski says she became friends with Spears after interviewing her many times over the years.
MAJEWSKI: I got really emotional hearing her because I kept thinking the people who are supposed to protect her, they weren't protecting her. Were they in on it?
FARROW: Britney Spears referenced repeatedly in her testimony that she had wanted to speak out on this before, that she feared that she would be disbelieved, that she would be mocked.
You know, she talks about efforts to keep her quiet and her desire to give interviews about this and her inability to do so.
MELAS: Farrow says the 10 core people who manage the business of Britney were nervous in those days leading up to the hearing.
FARROW: There were frantic texts being exchanged by prominent people within her management and her team debating what was going to happen, and what to do about it.
MELAS: Britney actually went to the police station near her house hours before the hearing and spoke to 911 dispatchers from a lobby phone. Reporting herself a victim of conservatorship abuse. Shortly after, officers met with Britney at her home.
FARROW: There was a concerted effort to create a record of her complaints, and she wanted to begin to establish that she believed that something illegal was happening here, and indeed, that is what she said the next day, that, you know, she felt people involve in maintaining this conservatorship should go to jail.
LISA MACCARLEY, L.A. COUNTY CONSERVATORSHIP ATTORNEY: Conservatorship is a legal proceeding in which a court appointments someone, or gives somebody authority to make decisions for another person, an adult who has been deemed unable to provide for their own needs for good health, food, clothing and shelter.
MELAS: Lisa MacCarley is an L.A. County conservatorship attorney who over the years faced off in court with many of the legal players in this case.
(On-camera): Were you surprised when Britney was put under a conservatorship?
MACCARLEY: Absolutely. I understood that there was trauma. I understood that she was having emotional upheaval, but I certainly did not see a woman that was so incapable of taking care of herself, which is why I've maintained all along that this has been an unlawful deprivation of her civil liberties and constitutional rights.
MELAS (voice-over): Britney's father denies doing anything wrong and in a statement to CNN Jamie Spears' lawyer says he devoted his life to helping Britney meet her goals.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we want?
PROTESTERS: Free Britney.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When do we want it?
MELAS: But Britney's testimony was vindication for a group of concerned fans at the helm of a grassroots movement that propelled this summer of revelations.
(On-camera): What was it like when you heard Britney address the court on June 23rd in her own words?
LEANNE SIMMONS, FREE BRITNEY ACTIVIST: It was surreal.
MELAS (voice-over): Leanne Simmons is a leader in the Free Britney Movement.
SIMMONS: I was so awful to have to hear it. It was vindicating because we knew that was the truth, but part of me wished we were wrong and that she wasn't suffering the way that she has been.
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: This morning a Los Angeles judge granting Britney Spears the ability to retain her own attorney in her legal battle against her father.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so happy that the judge granted Britney's request to hire her own lawyer. I think that's huge.
MELAS: Kevin Wu and Junior Olivas are also leaders in the movement, a movement that Jamie Spears has called a joke and made up of conspiracy theorists. After years of spearheading an outspoken online movement, they are finally witnessing Britney's controversial conservatorship come apart.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Britney's father filing a petition to end his conservatorship over her estate.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I hope Britney is excited. I hope she sees the light at the end of the tunnel because we do.
DAN GEORGE, SPEARS' PROMOTIONAL TOUR MANAGER 2008-2009: It's incredible what the Free Britney Movement has been able to uncover.
MELAS: Former promotional tour manager Dan George has rarely spoken publicly about his time working with Britney. GEORGE: You know, there are some wild conspiracy theories and you can
laugh about them but there are also people who are very diligent who have really sniffed out the story, combed through the court documents and just organized in such an amazing way. It really shows how much love they have for her.
MELAS: Some claim not everyone has had Britney's best interest at heart.
FARROW: I was struck in our reporting by the testimony of a number of people who felt that there were pretty sinister motivations on the part of some of the people creating and upholding the conservatorship.
MELAS: Who and why? That story later.
But first, the twisted road that got Britney where she is today.
JIA TOLENTINO, STAFF WRITER, THE NEW YORKER: The breakup by all accounts, it destabilized her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I noticed last week you had the most adorable pretty eyes. Do you have a boyfriend?
SPEARS: No, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not?
SPEARS: They're mean.
MELAS: Since she was a young girl, Britney Spears was tasked to be the impossible.
TOLENTINO: She's supposed to be monumentally sexy. She's also supposed to be perfectly innocent and she's expected to sustain those contradictions in from of a national audience forever and ever at every moment.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'm just wondering how you feel about constant speculation about your virginity and whether you are a virgin or not. Have there been any changes on that front?
SPEARS: That's a personal question.
MELAS: The scrutiny started at age 16 with Britney's first hit "Baby, One More Time."
O'DONNELL: How is it for you that young to be that successful. Must be a lot, huh?
SPEARS: It's fun now. It's fun. O'DONNELL: Yes?
MELAS (on-camera): Rosie, you were the first talk show host to actually interview Britney Spears.
O'DONNELL: You started out when you were like just a little kid.
MELAS: What were your memories of that interview?
O'DONNELL: What I remember was that she was an immensely talented kid and she came on my show and blew everyone away. She was adorable with this little southern twang. She's up there with the top tier of women performers in my lifetime.
I'm 37. How old are you?
SPEARS: I'm 17.
O'DONNELL: I'm old enough to be your mother. I don't want to see you in that shirt again.
MELAS: Did you ever meet her father or her mother? In all of the interviews, were they ever there with her?
O'DONNELL: Never, never met them.
MELAS (voice-over): While Britney went on tour, her parents Jamie and Lynn Spears usually stayed close to home to raise their other two young kids but they enlisted the help of their close family friend to go on the road with her.
SPEARS: Laundry, laundry, heads up.
MELAS: In court testimony Britney portrayed a rocky relationship with her dad during her childhood. "I was always extremely scared of my dad," she said, "And I always thought he was going to show up drunk somewhere and embarrass me."
TOLENTINO: Jamie was an alcoholic. Lynn wrote in the memoir about how once Jamie, you know, went on a bender so egregious that she shot up his cooler, his beer cooler with a shotgun. Jamie's personality, people described it to us as he is, you know, fairly domineering, he's aggressive.
MELAS: In her memoir, Britney's mother Lynn wrote that she had endured years and years of verbal abuse, abandonment, and erratic behavior by Jamie. Britney told "People" magazine her parents' eventual divorce was the best thing that's ever happened to my family.
(On-camera): Did you meet Jamie and Lynn Spears?
REY ROLDAN, BRITNEY'S FORMER PUBLICIST: I met Jamie very rarely. I maybe met him maybe twice, two or three times?
MELAS (voice-over): Rey Roldan was managing publicity at Jive Records during Britney's big breakout in 1998.
(On-camera): And she's on the cover of "Rolling Stone" in basically her underwear. Were there discussions behind the scenes about how you all were choosing to market her?
ROLDAN: Well, the interesting thing about that is that the "Baby, One More Time" video, we didn't quite see it as sexualized. Mainly because she was -- it was what the kids were wearing. The "Rolling Stones" story on the other hand, that was something that we feared for a long time. We saw it and we got the proofs back from the photographer and I remember thinking like, we could be really screwed here, and I remember being in the meeting, the next meeting and it was really tense.
MELAS: Why agree then to put that cover out there?
ROLDAN: It was "Rolling Stones'" decision.
MELAS (voice-over): "Rolling Stone" did not respond for comment.
ROLDAN: "Slave for You" came out and that was, I felt, the turning point. When I saw that video I kind of felt like no, she's now a woman, you know, she's like --
MELAS (on-camera): And a sex symbol.
ROLDAN: And a sex symbol.
TOLENTINO: She's traveling constantly. She's constantly under bright lights, big audiences, under so much scrutiny but she has this stable, loving first love.
MAJEWSKI: They had been together for a very long time before they actually went public.
MELAS (voice-over): Lori Majewski was a top editor at "Teen People" and says she knew about Britney's romance with Justin Timberlake before they went public in 1999.
MAJEWSKI: You have to remember that traditionally you don't want to reveal your romantic status because if you're a girl, the record label wants the guys to put you on their wall, right? And that might damn your sexual appeal, your sex appeal a bit.
And then they breakup in 2002 and suddenly a lot of people describe this as the moment where she starts to feel the enormity of her fame.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How is it that Justin went oh, so right while Britney went oh, so wrong?
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Justin Timberlake said bye, bye, bye, to pop star girlfriend Britney Spears.
MELAS: Tabloids and the media turned on the pop star.
DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: He's just gone on television and pretty much said you broke his heart, you did something that caused him so much pain, so much suffering. What did you do?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Justin was accusing Britney of cheating on him, and putting out a song about it.
TOLENTINO: She's getting death threats for doing Justin dirty. And now her sex life, her objectification is turned on her in a sharp and really cruel way and the breakup, you know, by all accounts, it, yes, destabilized her.
DANIEL RAMOS, PAPARAZZI: It was a Hollywood machine. It's the only way I can explain it.
MELAS: Former Hollywood paparazzi Daniel Ramos said at least 100 photographers would follow Spears at any given time.
RAMOS: The tabloids were paid a lot of money for Britney Spears. Everyone else, great. Every other celebrity, OK. But Britney, number one.
GEORGE: That photo could be very valuable. It could be worth $100,000, $150,000, perhaps.
O'DONNELL: What people don't realize is you're so provoked when you're the entertainer.
At the height of my career when I had all these little babies and they were everywhere and they were trying to find out, is she gay, isn't she gay? How fat is she? It was like never ending incoming bullets.
MISCHA BARTON, ACTRESS: I was left with a lot of PTSD from that stuff.
MELAS: Actress Mischa Barton was named the "it girl" by "Entertainment Weekly" in 2003 thanks to her hit show "The O.C."
BARTON: I remember one time the paparazzi were kind of closing in and I sat down into the car too quickly and it clipped the side of my head and I had this (INAUDIBLE), I could just feel the blood like gushing down my face. I guess the conversation has opened up about like what has led to some of these people's breakdowns over the years.
O'DONNELL: Everyone is under a microscope when you're famous and it's very difficult to manage no matter what anyone tells you in the midst of it. I know for me that fame was like a tsunami. It's hard to keep your head above water.
MAJEWSKI: There was such a lust for celebrity gossip and it became so competitive. It became like they were our prey.
MELAS: Their number one target, Britney Spears. TOLENTINO: We talked to people who worked inside her house who were
talking about photographers climbing the trees in the neighbor's house and shooting into the backyard. It's pure chaos. It starts to make her lose it as it would make anyone lose it.
MELAS: Coming up, Britney is about to lose so much more.
RAMOS: She went to Kevin's house and wanted to see the kids but Kevin didn't let her in the house.
MELAS: For Britney Spears, 2004 began with a whirlwind wedding, intensifying the constant swarming by the paparazzi.
CAMEROTA: It was the beginning of an incredibly tumultuous chapter of Britney's life, one that would push her to the brink.
SPEARS: It was awesome. It was definitely my dream wedding.
KEVIN FEDERLINE, FORMER HUSBAND: Mine, too.
CAMEROTA: Britney was 22 years old with she met then backup dancer Kevin Federline.
FEDERLINE: I care about you. If you've ever watched this tape, I care.
CAMEROTA: They were engaged after just three months of dating and nearly eight months after her shocking 55-hour marriage to childhood friend Jason Alexander, which was annulled.
JASON ALEXANDER, FORMER HUSBAND: We realized what we did wasn't probably the right thing we should have done.
MAJEWSKI: She was branded as a wild card.
TOLENTINO: She wrote something that I find really touching just a couple of months after she gets married, she writes, I've had an entire career, I traveled around the world, I've even kissed Madonna. The only thing I haven't done is the closest thing to God and that's having a baby. I can't wait.
SPEARS: Everyone in general should boast their wishes more because I think the more you throw it out to the universe, the universe gives it back to you.
TOLENTINO: She gets pregnant three months after they get married.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Britney, Britney, what were you thinking?
CAMEROTA: But motherhood only intensified the paparazzi attention and the scrutiny on Britney. UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The pop star was photographed driving with her
infant son in her lap.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Will this shocking photo get Britney Spears in big trouble.
LARRY KING, "LARRY KING LIVE" HOST: She says that she did it instinctively to get herself and her son out of the situation.
O'DONNELL: She drove in the car with the baby on the lap. OK, that was a mistake she made. They dragged down women in a way that is terrifying.
TOLENTINO: There's paparazzi chasing her in New York, and she's on a cobblestone street, she's holding the baby. She stumbles. His head tilts back. Flashbulbs go off everywhere. She starts crying. She goes to a cafe to just cradle her infant. She was surrounded by paparazzi. She was holding that baby sobbing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, Britney. How are you tonight?
TOLENTINO: Three weeks after the second kid was born, Kevin Federline took a private jet to Vegas. He was trying to jump start a rap career. This was creating problems in their relationship.
CAMEROTA: Less than two months after giving birth to her second child, Britney filed for divorce.
TOLENTINO: She is still nursing a 2-month-old. Kevin immediately requests full custody and they are splitting custody while this is all being adjudicated. And this is when things really started to get really bad for Britney. She had these huge chunks of the week where she wanted to be with her kids and she couldn't and she filled that time with what any 25-year-old might, by going out.
CAMEROTA: The paparazzi hounded her.
SPEARS: I'm scared, I'm scared, I'm scared. Where's the door?
CAMEROTA: Then on February 16th, 2007 a shocking episode.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my god. Oh, my god.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of buzz about the bizarre actions of one Britney Spears.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She shaved her head leaving some to wonder if she lost more than just her hair.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Britney sheer disaster.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hardly the image one would imagine of a pop princess.
CAMEROTA: Five days later, another stunning incident. RAMOS: She went over to Kevin's house and wanted to see the kids but
Kevin didn't let her in the house, and she buzzed the door and you could hear, I'm not letting you in. And then she would call him on the phone like, let me in. You're not going to see the kids.
SPEARS: Please, guys, don't do this.
RAMOS: She got upset. She grabs the umbrella and she starts going after my truck.
CAMEROTA: Magazine covers blared that Britney was in the middle of a breakdown.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really hate to say this but Britney Spears seems to be melting down faster than the Wicked Witch of the West.
O'DONNELL: They took her kids away. If you took my kids away, I would have done the same exact thing.
FARROW: Britney Spears in 2007 and 2008 went through what was clearly a very difficult period. She seemed to be struggling emotionally.
She had lost a lot of access to her children. There had been a custody dispute and at the same time, people close to her told us she had struggled with addiction. And there were a number of showdowns where her mother tried to get access to her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are things with Britney?
FARROW: Where her family was trying to reestablish control and where big fights ensued.
CAMEROTA: There is also another force in the Spears family orbit. A business manager who had been working with Britney's younger sister.
FARROW: Over the same period of time, Jamie Spears was in conversation with Lou Taylor, a business manager who shared the Spears' family's Christian faith, her husband is a pastor at a very devote Christian church. She began to consult with Jamie Spears and the family, and was on a number of calls where Jamie Spears was exploring the possibility of a conservatorship to assert more control over Britney's life.
TOLENTINO: By early 2008 Britney is only allowed three supervised visits with her children a week. And on one of these visitations, she doesn't want to let the kids go. She's clutching her youngest and she goes into a bathroom, shuts the door and says she's not coming out. And this kind of immediately results in the police being called, SWAT team comes and breaks down the door, straps her onto a gurney, and takes her to the hospital. It's a 5150, involuntary psychiatric hold.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The judge signed a 5150 order that puts Spears on a three-day hold at the UCLA Medical Center.
DR. DREW PINSKY, "CELEBRITY REHAB WITH DR. DREW": She's acutely psychiatrically ill as a person can be.
BARTON: I remember I threw like an empty water bottle, ended up getting locked up, like arrested and I was quite notoriously, as everybody knows, held on a 5150 back in the day. It was very easy to strip me of my rights very quickly, and to keep me in line.
CAMEROTA: After two hospitalizations in less than a month, one day would change Britney's life for the next 13 years.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This way, this way, Britney.
CAMEROTA: February 1st, 2008, she's placed under a temporary conservatorship. The L.A. County judge Reva Goetz puts Britney's father in charge of her finances and personal decisions. The conservatorship was made permanent later that year.
FARROW: Lou Taylor subsequently after the creation of the conservatorship was brought in as Britney Spears' business manager. What Lou Taylor and her attorney say is she was only there to, you know, manage a tour.
CAMEROTA: Sources close to Britney tell CNN that Britney blames Lou Taylor for many of the issues surrounding the conservatorship. One source says, quote, "Britney is aware and angered by the control exercised over her by Lou Taylor and her company which reaped millions of dollars from her estate."
Taylor resigned last year saying she had been receiving death threats. In a statement a lawyer for Taylor and her company Try Star tell CNN, quote, "Miss Taylor was not involved in the creation of a conservatorship," adding they were paid, quote, "an industry standard percentage as Britney's business manager," and they have, quote, "nothing but fondness for Britney Spears and are proud to have served her faithfully for 12 years."
(On-camera): She couldn't have a cell phone. Is that true?
(Voice-over): When we return --
(On-camera): You're here to tell the Free Britney people and the general public, they're right, something bad was happening.
CAMEROTA: Late 2008, Britney Spears' life was a circus. She released a new album. And launched a busy promotional tour all while adjusting to life under conservatorship.
MAJEWSKI: Suddenly she's back out on tour, the Circus Tour. How? Why? Who is allowing this?
CAMEROTA: From the very beginning, the motives of the conservatorship were questioned including by former family friend Jackie Butcher.
FARROW: Jackie Butcher is a great example of someone who initially was sold on this argument that the conservatorship was a dream come true and a way to put Britney Spears on a healthier path to nurture and support Britney, and to get her the mental healthcare that she needed. Not to orchestrate a quick and lucrative comeback.
CAMEROTA: Britney Spears did make a comeback. "Circus" sold more than half a million copies the first week and debuted at the top of the Billboard 200.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The Britney comeback train just keeps on rolling.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Clearly it's been circus but clearly she's ready for a comeback.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: It's being called the comeback of all comebacks.
CAMEROTA: But behind the scenes, a lot was put in place to keep things running smoothly.
GEORGE: She was very approachable.
CAMEROTA: Dan George worked as Britney's promotional tour manager for six months starting in late 2008. This is one of the rare interviews he's given about his experience.
GEORGE: I had worked with Shakira as one of her managers for four years. She had a bit of a reputation as someone who was a perfectionist and she also was very scandal free. So I think those are some of the points that they were looking to bring to the Britney universe when they were trying to restore order in 2008.
CAMEROTA (on-camera): Shakira's reputation of being scandal free.
CAMEROTA: They thought that you could help put up some guard rails?
CAMEROTA: There were reports that on the Circus tour she couldn't read certain books. She couldn't have a cell phone. Is that true?
GEORGE: Yes. Yes.
CAMEROTA: What books couldn't she read?
GEORGE: She could only read Christian books.
CAMEROTA: Says who?
GEORGE: Her father.
CAMEROTA: She couldn't have a cell phone?
GEORGE: At times she did have a cell phone. Her phone was monitored.
The text messages were read. The call logs were there. I don't know whether or not calls were recorded, but the use of a phone was very tightly controlled.
CAMEROTA (voice-over): CNN cannot independently confirm these allegations but Britney herself says her doctors and therapists were also carefully controlled.
GEORGE: The conservatorship dictated to her who her doctors were going to be, which doctors she was going to see, how often she was going to see them, how long the sessions would be. Every aspect of her medical care and not just her medical care was extremely, extremely controlled.
CAMEROTA: As was who she could see.
GEORGE: Who she could date, who she could be friends with was very, very tightly controlled.
CAMEROTA (on-camera): The conservatorship told her who she could be friends with.
GEORGE: I think there was a concern that a third party might introduce something to the mix that would be detrimental to the overall structure that was restoring order in her life and I think the conservatorship did a good job of doing that in the beginning.
CAMEROTA: Meaning, they were trying to keep out the riffraff or they were trying to make sure they were protecting the bottom line and this commodity could keep performing?
GEORGE: Well, she was treated as more of an object than a human.
CAMEROTA (voice-over): And behind the scenes, George says everyone who worked on the tour knew about the conservatorship but were forbidden from discussing it.
GEORGE: If anyone were to express an opinion about the conservatorship, even just talking to a colleague or talking to Britney about it, you could lose your job. You'd be out the next day.
CAMEROTA: Jamie Spears declined to comment on the record about these specifics. His lawyers did tell CNN that Jamie was working to help Britney at, quote, "regaining custody of her children, rehabilitating her career and being in a position to live the life she wants to live." SPEARS: If I wasn't under restraints that I'm under right now, you
know, with all the lawyers and doctors and people analyzing me every day, and all that kind of stuff, like, if that wasn't there, I'd feel so liberated.
CAMEROTA: Britney broke her silence in an MTV documentary filmed during the Circus tour.
SPEARS: When I tell them the way I feel, it's like they hear me but they're really not listening. They're hearing what they want to hear. They're not really listening to what I'm telling them. It's like, it's bad. I'm sad.
GEORGE: That shows a self-awareness that she is able to see the way that she's feeling so she's not some cookie person caught up in her thoughts and unable to see herself thinking. She's actually outside of herself looking at herself and saying, I'm sad right now.
MACCARLEY: She was clearly able to think for herself, articulate what her needs are, articulate, you know, what she was feeling and expressing and that really was very sad and troubling. I did not see anything other than a woman traumatized, a woman being abused by the family law courts.
CAMEROTA: Remember, the standard for conservatorships is when a judge deems someone incapable of caring for themselves or managing their finances like someone with dementia, Alzheimer's, mental illness or a profound physical injury.
Since 2008, Britney released four studio albums, toured the world four times, had a four-year Las Vegas residency that reportedly grossed more than $137 million and became a judge on "The X Factor." In court testimony Britney says this is all proof that she does not need a conservatorship.
MAJEWSKI: She is clearly working and supporting herself, supporting her camp, her lawyer, her manager, her father, and we hear that the conservatorship is basically for people who can't work, who can't support themselves, so it's quite contradictory.
MACCARLEY: It's absolutely shocking. It's so inappropriate. It is absolutely remarkable that not a single judge, not a single lawyer, not a single member of the probate court staff in Los Angeles County, not anyone affiliated with Britney had enough common sense to put together this is inappropriate.
CAMEROTA: Inappropriate says MacCarley to have stayed in place for 13 years.
MACCARLEY: Once they deprived her of her civil liberties and basically got her to accept the conservatorship, she just gave up fighting, she gave up resisting because every time she attempted to hire an attorney or to be heard, she was ignored.
CAMEROTA: And forever changed. Majewski says she remembers seeing Britney in 2015, seven years into the conservatorship.
MAJEWSKI: It was very clear to me, she had lost a spark. Her light had dimmed.
CAMEROTA: Britney reignites when we come back.
CAMEROTA: On the surface Britney Spears' conservatorship appeared to stabilize her life and career but recent news reports and uncovered court documents reveal she was unhappy and quietly pushed for the years to end the arrangement.
MELAS: In 2019, Britney abruptly cancelled her Las Vegas residency and checked into a mental health facility. In August 2020 she took her fight public, petitioning the court to change her conservatorship and remove her father as conservator. That set up Britney's latest battle for freedom.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR: Surprising new developments in the Britney Spears case.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Her father has filed a petition to end her conservatorship.
CAMEROTA (voice-over): Months after Britney's emotional testimony, the release of the bombshell "New York Times" documentary "Framing Britney Spears."
SPEARS: There's a lot that people don't know about me that I want them to know.
CAMEROTA: And years of pressure from the Free Britney Movement.
PROTESTERS: Hey, ho, ho, the conservatorship has got to go.
CAMEROTA: The end of Britney's 13-year conservatorship may be in sight.
PARIS HILTON, ACTRESS: It's just amazing to hear to know that Britney is another step closer to having her freedom, which she deserves so much.
TOLENTINO: We should make no mistake, when Britney is free of the conservatorship, as I believe she will be, she did it herself. She spoke out for herself in this remarkable way and I don't think the people closest to her were expecting it.
CAMEROTA: But Britney wants freedom and accountability for those who have been controlling her every move. The 39-year-old said in her July court testimony, quote, "I want to press charges against my father. I want an investigation into my dad."
TOLENTINO: The conservatorship has been incredibly lucrative for so many people. Britney has disbursed millions and millions and millions of dollars to the people who have maintained the conservatorship.
CAMEROTA: After her father filed a petition this month to end the arrangement, Britney's lawyer issued a statement saying, in part, quote, "To the extent Mr. Spears believes he can try to avoid accountability and justice, he is incorrect and our investigation into financial mismanagement and other issues will continue."
FARROW: We have already seen in recent filings from Britney Spears' new lawyer that he's advancing a case that Britney Spears' funds were at best used inappropriately, at worst, maybe used fraudulently. There could be real repercussions for some of the people involved in that management team.
CAMEROTA: In a statement to CNN Jamie Spears' lawyer said, quote, "All of his actions were well within the parameters of the authority conferred upon him by the court. His actions were done with the knowledge and consent of Britney, her court appointed attorney and/or the court. Jamie's record as conservator and the court's approval of his actions speak for themselves." His lawyer went on to say, quote, "Jamie loves Britney unwaveringly and wants only the best for her."
And then there is the court of public opinion.
SAMANTHA STARK, DIRECTOR, "FRAMING BRITNEY SPEARS": It's about how we treat women. You know, I'm the same age as Britney. When my peers and I were watching how she was being treated, it made it OK to treat us like that. So I think it's a reckoning in that respect, hopefully.
CAMEROTA: Celebrity watches are now rethinking how Britney was treated following her breakup with Justin Timberlake.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was, you know, coming from a boy band trying to make his way and he used women.
CAMEROTA: Justin Timberlake did issue an apology to Britney, writing in part, that he, quote, "benefitted a system that condones misogyny."
Britney's struggle in the national spotlight also raises important questions about how the legal system and society treat women with mental health issues.
(On-camera): We do have some examples of men, of male celebrities who have in paparazzi pictures and cell phone video appeared unhinged.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Erratic.
CAMEROTA: Erratically at times.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Women are always judged by a higher standard. I think most of us wonder what would the narrative look like if she wasn't a woman. CAMEROTA (voice-over): Sylvia Yukevich (PH) is a psychotherapist who
specializes in the impact of gender-based violence and post-traumatic stress disorder on mental health.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is a voyeuristic component to celebrities and especially to this case. It's important to keep in mind that this is a person. That this is someone's life and that the way we treat her actually says something about ourselves, about our society.
CAMEROTA: And then there is the issue of conservatorships. In 2018 there were an estimated 1.3 million people under active conservatorships or guardianships in the United States. Britney's story has already inspired a call to action from lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle.
(On-camera): It took Britney Spears to bring the country together.
REP. NANCY MACE (R-SC): I mean, literally. Literally.
CAMEROTA (voice-over): Representatives Charlie Crist, a Florida Democrat, and South Carolina Republican Nancy Mace introduced the Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation Act.
(On-camera): How big of a problem are conservatorships?
REP. CHARLIE CRIST (D-FL): If this can happen to Britney Spears, it can happen to anybody.
MACE: What this will do will allow someone like Britney Spears or someone in a similar situation to petition the court or petition the judge and give them the right to have a public guardian overseeing their conservatorship rather than someone who perhaps has a conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.
SIMMONS: As I grew up, her albums became sort of soundtracks to different eras of my life.
CAMEROTA: The sound track to Britney's own life now has a new tune. She seems to be speaking more freely on social media. She also just announced her engagement to long-time boyfriend Sam Asghari. Her fans and friends say they just want her to be happy and freed.
GEORGE: Britney is an authentically good person.
BARTON: I literally just hope that she gets as many children as she wants and has this great life.
ROLDAN: I definitely want to tell her you were always one of those girls that wanted love and I really hope you find that.
MAJEWSKI: I just wish you happiness.
SIMMONS: I want her to know that she is not alone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love you, Britney. Don't give up.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We love you, Britney, we support you. We just want you to live life on your own terms.
O'DONNELL: She has so much left to live for and so much left to do. She survived what most people couldn't and I thank God she's using her voice.
I love you, Britney.