Reflecting on the accepted practices of the recent past can be an uncomfortable process.

Last year, a number of sit-coms from the noughties – such as Little Britain – came under scrutiny for racial stereotyping and in particular the use of blackface. Many struggled to reconcile a fondness for such shows with their changed values. In a similar way, Samantha Stark’s New York Times documentary, ‘Framing Britney Spears’, hits close to home.

Social media heralded the production as a ground-breaking expose on the horrific treatment of celebrity women by the media and the public in the noughties. But really, does it tell us anything we didn’t already know? In reality, ‘Framing Britney Spears’ is a timely reminder of our recent history under the cold light of present-day standards. In the wake of the #metoo and #bekind movements, this study of toxic narratives on womanhood and mental health issues is both relevant and valuable.

Refreshingly, ‘Framing Britney Spears’ acknowledges the shared responsibility for Spears’ suffering. Coverage of Spears’ early career, littered with intrusive questions about her body and sexual history, satisfied the public’s appetite for the private lives of celebrities. That same audience hungrily consumed the star’s downfall, which was publically documented and relished in the media.

Sensational headlines branded Spears an unfit mother; Tabloids were plastered with a bald, umbrella-wielding Spears attacking a car; Game shows used her mental health as an easy punch line.

Yet, all too often, one rung of the tabloid media has taken the brunt of blame for this state of affairs: the paparazzi. Vanessa Díaz, assistant professor of Chicana/o and Latina/o studies at Loyola Marymount University, has explored the pattern of scapegoating the paparazzi – a group of predominantly Latino men many of whom are immigrants.

Diaz notes that these individuals work freelance with no job security and significant cash incentives to capture celebrity’s private lives.

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Cover Photo: Joshua Fuller

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With a single photo of Britney selling for up to $1 million dollars, frenzied crowds of photographers are a symptom of a much wider problem: a culture that demands access to celebrity private live.

This, by no means, absolves the paparazzi for crossing ethical and moral lines as highlighted in ‘Framing Britney Spears’. Indeed, Daniel ‘Dano’ Ramos, the paparazzo whose car Spears attacked with an umbrella should reflect on his own sizeable role in publicizing Spears’ fall from grace. He feigns concern for her behind the camera moments before capturing the infamous photo. Her distress is apparent, yet he insists ‘she never gave a clue’ that she wanted to be left alone.

‘Framing Britney’s’ strength is that it does not just allocate accountability to the paparazzi. Director, Samantha Stark, features footage of male and female interviewers interrogating Spear’s sexual history and also highlights the complicity of public figures such as Justin Timberlake and Kendel Ehrlich, the first lady of Maryland. Ehrlich said she would like to shoot Spears.

a ground-breaking expose on the horrific treatment of celebrity women by the media.

Where the documentary perhaps falls short is its incomplete commentary on Spears’ conservatorship which given the confidential nature of court proceedings and medical records is perhaps unsurprising. Little over an hour long, ‘Framing Britney Spears’ is actually episode 6 in a series of documentaries by the New York Times, rather than a stand-alone production. Perhaps Netflix’s forthcoming Britney Spears documentary, which is set to focus on the star’s conservatorship and court battle, will offer a more forensic take on this issue.

MACKAYAN: how toxic culture imprisoned the princess of pop.