Clips From Framing Britney Spears Tell Us Everything About How We Used To Treat Mental Health

It feels inconceivable now, but the documentary reminds us how ignorant and intolerant the world was about mental illness until recently.

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by Anna Silverman |

Where to watch the Britney Spears documentary Framing Britney Spears

Framing Britney Spears was released on FX and Hulu on Friday 5 February in the US – but a UK release date hasn’t been confirmed yet. It is thought it will air over here in Spring 2021.

THERE are a number of familiar clips in the new New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears that many of us will have seen over the years. There’s Britney performing on Star Search in 1992 at the age of 10 and having to field inappropriate questions on stage afterwards about whether she has a boyfriend; there’s 21-year-old Britney being asked about her ex-boyfriend Justin Timberlake by PrimeTime host Diane Sawyer, to the point where she breaks down in tears. Diane goes on to probe her about her sex life, berate photoshoots Britney has done and inform Britney that one woman said: ‘Really if I had an opportunity to shoot Britney Spears, I think I would.’

But worst of all are the clips which show a clearly vulnerable young woman struggling with her mental health being treated like the butt of a joke or a circus animal. And sadder still is the sinking realisation that we’ve seen these clips before over the years, but - back then - didn’t recognise how bad they were.

The fact they didn't shock us the first time around shows how ignorant we were about mental health. Watching through a 2021 lens it’s clear society didn't take it seriously. These clips tell us everything about the way in whch we used to treat mental illness.

The more Britney's mental health deteriorated the more she became easy fodder for TV networks and tabloids [her marriage to Kevin Federline broke down, she lost visitation rights to see her to sons and she went through a series of breakdowns]. One of the more shocking clips in the documentary is from an episode of Family Fortunes in the US where 'Name things Britney Spears has lost this year' is a question. The host, contestants and audience laugh, clap and cheer as they suggest answers: 'Her husband', 'Her hair', 'Her sanity' they gleefully shout. Indeed, 'her mind' is a correct answer.

One of the more shocking clips in the documentary is from an episode of Family Fortunes in the US where 'Name things Britney Spears has lost this year' is a question.

Any sign of mental instability and paparazzi pounced, desperate to get the ‘money shot’. We realise now how disgusting they were to treat somebody who isn't well in this way, but just a few years ago we might have bought our friends a joke mug saying ‘If Britney survived 2007 you can make it through today’ without stopping to think. It feels inconceivable now, but the documentary reminds us how ignorant and intolerant the world was about mental illness until recently. Today, Justin Timberlake issued a statement via his Instagram apologising to Britney, admitting he has benefited from an industry that condones misogyny, after he used their break-up to enhance his solo career. He suggested Britney cheated on him and cast a Britney lookalike in his video for Cry Me A River.

In Framing Britney Spears, we hear from the showbiz photographer Daniel Ramos, who got the infamous pictures of Britney smashing up his car with an umbrella in 2007, during a period where she was clearly unwell. ‘She never gave a clue or information to us that, “I don’t appreciate you guys. Leave me the F alone,”’ he says, to which the interviewer replies: ‘What about when she said, “Leave me alone"?’ The exchange encapsulates our societal attitudes at the time and how we didn't want to hear or understand.

The same goes for footage which shows the way her head shaving was reported. 'She bald' laughs one of the news hosts covering the story. In another clip, we see Britney trying to leave the toilet of a petrol station. She can barely walk as cameras are shoved in her face. She clutches her mouth, unable to get out while over a dozen men swarm around her, laughing and beckoning. She's clearly terrified and upset.

It’s right these clips are brought to light again so we can shake our heads and reprimand those who contributed to Britney’s suffering, but let’s not pretend we didn’t see this footage the first time around and, potentially, turn a blind eye.

But, if there’s a positive to take away from Framing Britney Spears it's this: the fact we find it so shocking now shows how far society has come. Thank God it feels unthinkable that we’d treat anyone like this today.

We still tear women down and misogyny in the entertainment industry is still rife, but attitudes have changed and we’re far more accepting and understanding of mental illness than we were. It came too late for Britney’s career, but let’s hope our shock at this footage will be enough to save others from going through it in the future.

Read more: Justin Timberlake Owes Britney Spears An Apology

Read more: Britney Spears 'Refuses To Perform' While Her Dad Remains In Control Of Her Estate

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