A Netflix documentary released Tuesday reveals several new twists in Britney Spears’ ongoing fight to end her 13-year conservatorship under the control of her father, Jamie Spears.
“Britney vs. Spears,” a 90-minute documentary directed by Erin Lee Carr and featuring journalist Jenny Eliscu, spotlights new interviews with key players, exposes leaked confidential documents, and unearths details about several previously unpublicized attempts by the singer to break free from her conservatorship.
The film dropped Tuesday morning, one day before a key hearing in Spears’ case, and amid a flurry of other documentaries, including the New York Times’ “Controlling Britney Spears” and CNN’s “Toxic: Britney Spears’ Battle for Freedom,” about the pop star’s fight for control over her personal life and finances.
Here’s a look at some of the most compelling revelations from the new Netflix documentary.
Paparazzo claims he tried to help Britney
Early on in the film, viewers are introduced to paparazzo Adnan Ghalib, who was tasked with photographing the pop star early on in her career and ended up forming a connection with her in 2007. “She felt better if I was present,” Ghalib told Carr. “Those were her words, not mine.”
Ghalib plays a role in many of the documentary’s important reveals. In an interview, he said he spent many late nights with Britney as she navigated her divorce from Kevin Federline and their child custody case.
“She was taking Adderall,” Ghalib told filmmakers of the time leading up to the start of the conservatorship. “I’m sure X amount of millions of people are taking Adderall. But those are things that become volatile and deadly weapons when you’re going through a child custody case.”
Britney was in a dark place at the time with “not one person she could trust — not mom, not dad, not friends, not her sister, not one,” Ghalib said.
After the conservatorship was established in February 2008, text messages between Britney and Ghalib revealed an exchange where Britney said she “hate[s] [her] life” and asks Ghalib to “talk to that lawyer,” in reference to replacing the court-appointed lawyer representing her, Sam Ingham, with attorney Adam Streisand.
“...I don’t know how u deal,” Ghalib said in one text. “I will call him right now and arrange a meeting ... I can’t believe u and ur dad can’t sit and talk this out. he needs to compromise some !!!”
Ultimately, the court told Streisand he could not represent the singer, citing a report that “she doesn’t have the capacity to retain council and have an attorney-client relationship.”
There is no law that says conservatees have the right to an attorney of their choice, according to the film.
Former manager Sam Lutfi claims he was vilified to speed along the conservatorship
Britney’s former manager Sam Lutfi told the filmmakers about how he and Britney originally met in a bar, where she asked for Lutfi’s phone number. He assumed he wouldn’t hear from her, but one night she called him and said she needed help.
“You could see the divorce was impacting her a lot,” Lutfi said in the documentary. He suggested that Britney keep her family close while navigating the difficult time. “... [A]nd she would say, ‘My relationship is not like your relationship with your family,’” Lutfi said.
The filmmakers go on to describe how Britney was not granted a five-day grace period she was entitled to ahead of her father’s filing of the conservatorship — which would have allowed her time to contest the arrangement or find a lawyer. Both of her parents alleged in a court filing that Lutfi was drugging and controlling the pop star, and the court waived her right to five days’ notice.
That allegation is repeated in the documentary by Lorilee Cracker, who was the biographer of Britney’s mother, Lynne. “That is something that I don’t think has really been portrayed correctly is the level of crisis at the moment the conservatorship began,” Cracker told Carr. “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.”
But Lutfi denied the claim.
“You have 100 blood tests and drug tests,” Lutfi said. “The entire time I was with her, she passed every single one of them. Which is why the police never came to my door. No one ever came to my door. 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.”
Lutfi later sued Lynne Spears for defamation.
Journalist smuggled in document to help Britney secure a new lawyer
Eliscu, who had written two Rolling Stones cover stories about Britney and had a good rapport with the pop star, revealed how she briefly became involved in Britney’s case, working with Lutfi and Ghalib to help her try to hire a new lawyer.
In January 2009, one year into the conservatorship, when Ghalib and Lutfi were no longer allowed near Britney, the pair asked Eliscu to smuggle in a document for Britney to sign at the Montage Beverly Hills. The document expressed Britney’s lack of confidence in her court-appointed attorney, Ingham, and requested a new lawyer named John Anderson.
Eliscu described walking into the hotel, pretending she was a guest, and seeing Britney in the pool.
“I gave her a side eye, saw her see me, and I went into a small bathroom and got the pen and papers ready,” Eliscu recounted. After Britney signed the documents, Eliscu said Britney “definitely seemed scared ... but she was so appreciative, which is kind of her vibe, to be scared but grateful.”
But Eliscu described how the petition went nowhere: “It had been ruled that [Britney] lacked capacity to choose her own lawyer, and that they had cast enough doubt on whether that was her signature [on the document] ... 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.”
Records appear to show singer’s ‘impairment’ listed as dementia
A document filed early in the conservatorship indicated the singer’s “impairment” orders were related to dementia, which is rare for a young conservatee. Records leaked to the filmmakers from an anonymous source show more detailed medical documents produced by a doctor in 2008, who eventually resigned in 2013. The report included a statement that the singer “lacks the capacity to understand or manage her financial affairs without being subject to undue influence.”
Carr identified the doctor as Dr. J. Edward Spar, a now-retired geriatric psychiatrist specializing in dementia. In an interview, Spar refused to verify that he was ever brought in to evaluate Britney, but he did confirm he has been involved in several conservatorship cases that have “protected” the conservatee. He continued that most of the cases he handled involved “a predatory individual after that person’s money.”
At about the same time as the documents were filed, Britney was back to work, making an appearance on TV’s “How I Met Your Mother.”
“The episode was out within two months of the conservatorship starting,” Eliscu pointed out. “How is someone who was that ill well enough to go to work?”
Britney’s medication was increased while she was working
In 2012, the conservatorship signed a $15 million deal for Britney to be a judge on the reality TV competition “The X Factor,” despite the medical team’s position that the show would put “undue pressure” on the singer. According to the leaked records, the medical team eventually approved Britney’s participation in the show, but said there would be strict guidelines: one of which being that her then-fiance Jason Trawick’s presence was “mandatory” on set.
Carr then dropped a bombshell, reading again from the leaked medical records that the medication that Britney liked taking was increased as she worked.
“There’s different dosages on ‘work days’ and ‘non-work days,’” Carr read. She then quoted one passage directly: “On the one hand, Jamie and others on the team valued the benefits of stimulants for Britney’s performance. This has been the case for both of her tours and for her participation on the X Factor. By the same token, Jamie wanted Britney not to take stimulants. This contradiction has not been resolved.”
The court will decide on Wednesday if the conservatorship should end
The film makes clear that Spears has been fighting the conservatorship from the beginning, doing whatever she could to be released from it or, at least, have her father removed. It concludes with a voiceover of Britney’s powerful testimony in June 2021, where she spoke out publicly for the first time, telling the court that “my dad and anyone involved in this conservatorship should be in jail. It’s embarrassing and it’s demoralizing what I’ve been through ... I deserve to have the same rights as everybody.”
A week after the hearing, a judge denied Britney’s request to have her father removed from the conservatorship. Soon after that, Larry Rudolph, Britney’s manager of 25 years, resigned, but denied that he ever forced Britney to do a show she didn’t want to do.
On July 6, Ingham resigned as Britney’s attorney, and also maintains Britney never asked him to end the conservatorship. On July 14, Mathew Rosengart became Britney’s new attorney, and filed for the removal of Jamie as conservator. On Sept. 7, Jamie formally asked to be removed from his role as conservator, and recommended the conservatorship be terminated. The court could decide on Wednesday, Sept. 29, if the conservatorship should end.