Britney Spears in concert at the Jones Beach Theater on Long Island, June 27, 2000. The legal battle over who should control Spears’ finances and personal life is scheduled to return to the courtroom in February 2021 amid a renewed discussion of how she was treated during her meteoric rise as a teenage pop star. (G. Paul Burnett/The New York Times)
Britney Spears in concert at the Jones Beach Theater on Long Island, June 27, 2000. Image Credit: NYT

The conversation around women’s rights and representation in the entertainment industry has evolved in tangible ways since an 19-year-old Britney Spears released her debut album ‘...Baby One More Time’ in 1999.

Now, every music, film and TV award show comes under scrutiny to make sure there are enough women — and women of colour — getting their due in various categories. It’s considered unacceptable these days to ask a female actress about her weight or what she’s wearing instead of about her work during an interview.

Sexism in the entertainment industry has not been wiped out yet, as women still face many challenges even with the progress the #MeToo movement has made. However, the release of the documentary ‘Framing Britney Spears’ and several new reminders of past wrongs have triggered a new type of reckoning. It has shed light on how not all abuse is physically or sexual, and how poorly women in entertainment can be treated. Here’s a look at some of the most recent players in this new movement...

Britney Spears

Britney Spears shaves her head in 2007
Britney Spears shaves her head in 2007.

The paparazzi images of Britney Spears shaving her own head in 2007 have been seared into the memories of millions — whether you were a fan or just someone who watches the news, you would have seen it.

It was a shocking moment in pop culture history, one that has been revisited in the recent FX documentary ‘Framing Britney Spears’ that chronicles the singer’s swift rise to fame and her very public meltdown.

The unauthorised documentary produced by The New York Times has not only tipped the scales in Spears’ favour, but has reminded people living in the aftermath of the #MeToo era just how female celebrities were treated back then. Fans have dug into the archives to pull out clips of a young Spears being asked sexually charged and invasive questions by interviewers.

One such interview in 2003 saw Diane Sawyer ask a then 21-year-old Spears about her body, her status as a role model to girls and her alleged ‘unfaithfulness’ towards then-boyfriend Justin Timberlake. People have also pointed out how the sexist behaviour of singer Timberlake following his and Spears’ break-up led to Spears being vilified in the media.

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Singer Britney Spears and boyfriend Justin Timberlake arrive at the 28th Annual American Music Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California, on January 8, 2001. Image Credit: Reuters

Apologies are now tricking in: Timberlake, issued a statement apologising to the singer and to icon Janet Jackson, who bore the brunt of the backlash following the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction.

“I specifically want to apologize to Britney Spears and Janet Jackson both individually, because I care for and respect these women and I know I failed,” Timberlake said. “I also feel compelled to respond, in part, because everyone involved deserves better and most importantly, because this is a larger conversation that I wholeheartedly want to be a part of and grow from.”

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In this file photo taken on February 9, 2002, superstars Britney Spears and boyfriend Justin Timberlake talk as they sit courtside at the NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia. Image Credit: AFP

Celebrity news sites also acknowledged their part in this.

“We are all to blame for what happened to Britney Spears,” Glamour magazine wrote in a post.

Gossip blogger Perez Hilton said on his podcast: “My words and actions were wrong. I was nasty, mean, cruel, inconsiderate, awful. I have apologised to Britney not just publicly, but privately.”

The documentary that comes years after the #MeToo movement was triggered, has led to a collective eye opening about the misogyny of the entertainment industry and its treatment of vulnerable young women.

Janet Jackson

In this Feb. 1, 2004 file photo, singers Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson are seen during their performance prior to a wardrobe malfunction during the half time performance at Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston. Image Credit: AP

A video clip has been doing the rounds of Jackson talking to Oprah Winfrey about her 2004 Super Bowl halftime show performance with Timberlake. During the event, Timberlake accidentally exposed Jackson’s breast by pulling away part of her costume.

“All the emphasis was put on me. Not on Justin,” Jackson told Winfrey on her talk show in 2006.

Despite the accident being caused by Timberlake and Jackson facing what she said was an embarrassing situation in the public eye, it was Jackson’s career that took the most damage.

She was not permitted to attend the Grammy Awards that year, while the Recording Academy welcomed Timberlake back after he agreed to apologise on air. Timberlake has also been invited back to the Super Bowl stage, while Jackson has not performed at another halftime show since.

“The industry is flawed. It sets men, especially white men, up for success,” Timberlake wrote in his apology. “It’s designed this way. As a man in a privileged position I have to be vocal about this. Because of my ignorance, I didn’t recognize it for all that it was while it was happening in my own life but I do not want to ever benefit from others being pulled down again.”

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Janet Jackson performs at the Jeddah World Fest. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

But many say it’s too little too late.

Jackson has not commented on Timberlake’s apology as yet, but she is grateful for the new wave of support she has received from fans — her album 1986 ‘Control’ went to No 1 on Apple’s Top 40 US Pop Album chart.

“I was at home just the other day by myself and I began to cry. I was crying because I was so thankful for all that God has blessed me with. All that he has given me. For Him being in my life,” Jackson said in a video posted on Twitter. “And I am so thankful for all of you being in my life. You’re so special to me. And I want to thank all of you for making ‘Control’ number one once again after 35 years. I never in a million years, I would never think that this would happen. I really appreciate you and I love you so, so much. Thank you.”

Lindsay Lohan

Lindsay Lohan
Lindsay Lohan Image Credit: GN Archives

Lohan was a young, bright star who got her breakthrough in the hit 1998 movie ‘The Parent Trap’. Young girls were enthralled by her and she quickly became a household name. But ultimately everything came crashing down starting in 2007 when she entered rehab for drug addiction and faced charges of drunk driving. While it’s not clear what led to the promising actress’ downward spiral, one thing that has been brought into the open is how the media treated her through it all.

Talk show host David Letterman has come under fire after an interview clip of Lohan from 2013 went viral on Twitter.

Letterman is seen asking Lohan about her stints in rehab and her addictions, which many on social media have called out as ‘misogynistic’, ‘intrusive’ and plain ‘rude’.

“Aren’t you supposed to be in rehab?,” Letterman questions Lohan, who appeared on ‘The Late Show…’ to promote a film.

This is vile on so many levels. The misogyny. The blindsiding. The stigma of addiction & rehab. The hypocrisy of wanting people to recover, but then judging how they choose do so. I hope Lindsay Lohan knows how loved she is.

- Twitter user Frank Costa

When she informs him of the date she has to check into the facility, Letterman continues the line of questioning, asking: “What are they rehab-ing? What is on their list? What are they going to work on when you walk through the door?”

Lohan responds: “I think to be honest I’m the happiest when I’m working and the healthiest and I think this is an opportunity for me to you know focus on what I love in life and I don’t think it’s a bad thing I think it’s a blessing.”

“This is vile on so many levels. The misogyny. The blindsiding. The stigma of addiction & rehab. The hypocrisy of wanting people to recover, but then judging how they choose do so. I hope Lindsay Lohan knows how loved she is. The world has treated her and many others so unfairly,” tweeted Frank Costa in response to the clip.

Charisma Carpenter

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‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ actresses Charisma Carpenter and Sarah Michelle Gellar, and filmmaker Joss Whedon. Image Credit: AP

Whispers (or shouts) about filmmaker Joss Whedon’s on-set behaviour have been doing the rounds for a while. Last year, actor Ray Fisher made a statement about Whedon’s abusive nature.

“Joss Whedon’s on-set treatment of the cast and crew of ‘Justice League’ was gross, abusive, unprofessional, and completely unacceptable,” Fisher, who played the young superhero Cyborg in the DC Comics film, tweeted.

But it took Carpenter’s heartrending account of her experience with Whedon for people to sit up and take notice.

The actress worked with the filmmaker on his groundbreaking 90s series ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ and its spin-off ‘Angel’. She took to Twitter to back Fisher’s claims and tell her own story.

“Joss Whedon abused his power on numerous occasions while working together on the sets of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel,” she wrote. “While he found his misconduct amusing, it only served to intensify my performance anxiety, disempower me, and alienate me from my peers. The disturbing incidents triggered a chronic physical condition from which I still suffer. It is with a beating, heavy heart that I say I coped in isolation and, at times, destructively.”

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The actress said Whedon was cruel and targeted her when she was pregnant.

“He was mean and biting, disparaging about others openly, and often played favorites, pitting people against one another to compete and vie for his attention and approval,” she wrote.

“It is abundantly evident that Joss has persisted in his harmful actions, continuing to create wreckage in his wake,” Carpenter added. “My hope now, by finally coming forward about these experiences, is to create space for the healing of others who I know have experienced similar serialized abuses of power.”

Comment: We owe you an apology, Britney Spears

In today’s woke culture, the vilification of Spears would have never been accepted

By Bindu Rai, Entertainment Editor

Britney Spears
Britney Spears Image Credit: IANS

‘Inside Britney’s Breakdown’ was the headline that screamed across tabloids back in 2007, with the world getting a ringside view into a young woman’s private struggles.

The media circus that chased Britney Spears reached its peak that year, with tabloids painting the picture of a power-hungry woman who had spiralled out of control not long after she dared to break the heart of a young and impressionable Justin Timberlake.

The fact that Timberlake fuelled the narrative himself in the media was secondary for those selling headlines to the masses. ‘Spears in a Spiral’ sold print copies and the account stuck.

Spears was a teenage pop sensation unlike anyone the world had seen before. Her meteoric rise to fame was coupled only with her swift downfall, which was a collective effort by those who used the patriarchy as a tool to suffocate her success.

With the New York Times documentary ‘Framing Britney Spears’ shedding light on the part all of us played, perhaps even unconsciously, in the talented young singer’s fall from grace is a lesson in misogyny that today’s woke culture had best remember.

The apologies continue to trickle in with comedian Sarah Silverman, who made jokes about Spears at the 2007 MTV Video Music Awards by calling her children “the most adorable mistakes,” is the latest celebrity to regret her choice of words, hot on the heels of Timberlake’s own apology to the singer.

Speaking on her podcast Silverman said: “Britney, I am so sorry. I feel terribly if I hurt you. I could say I was just doing my job but that feels very Nuremberg Trial-y, and I am responsible for what comes out of my mouth.”

Glamour magazine also took to its Instagram to share remorse by saying: “We’re sorry, Britney. We are all to blame for what happened to Britney Spears.”

And the sad truth is, we most certainly are. Every time we picked up a magazine with a headline that pointed to ‘Britney’s Breakdown’, we played our parts. And that’s something we need to live with.