Why a Britney Spears biopic would be a bad idea

When it comes to living life in the public eye, there aren’t many people with more experience than Britney Spears.

When Baby One More Time exploded into the cultural zeitgeist in 1998, Spears was 16 years old. In the years and albums that followed, her fame only skyrocketed. She was the subject of intense media scrutiny, constantly pulled between the love and adoration of her young fans and those who tried to claim that she was a bad example due to her overt sexuality and public image.

Following the investigation and subsequent trial into her now-famous conservatorship, which rocked the industry of celebrity and raised questions about the ethics of fame and control, there has been no end of documentaries, podcasts and other explorations into Spears’s story.

Britney Spears
Britney Spears performing at the 1999 EMAs.

And for the record, no, you haven’t missed anything – there is no Britney biopic currently in the works.

But recently, the possibility of a biopic has been hanging in the air following an appearance by Millie Bobby Brown on The Drew Barrymore Show. During an interview in which Barrymore asks Brown what her future goals are, she responds by revealing her desire to play a real-life figure.

“I wanna play a real person, and I think for me: Britney,” she explains. “Britney Spears.”

When nudged, she went on to explain:

“I think her story, first of all, resonates with me. Just growing up in the public eye, watching her videos, watching interviews with her when she was younger… I don’t know her, but when I look at pictures of her I feel like I could tell her story in the right way and hers only.”

Millie Bobby Brown
Millie Bobby Brown has said she would love to play the Princess of Pop

Whilst nobody is denying that Millie Bobby Brown has the chops or the skill to portray a real-life person or Spears in particular (after all, her youthful zest and bubble-gum personality would contribute perfectly to the Princess of Pop’s essence), it does raise the question: should there, now or ever, be a Britney biopic?

The desire for actors to take on the legacy of another person is no industry secret. It’s an opportunity to prove they have what it takes to immerse themselves in the challenge. For some, the only thing better than managing to convince audiences of the fictional is to convince them of the truth.

And, let’s face it, a biopic role is an Oscar magnet. There are many actors who crave the feeling of holding an award in their hands à la Eddie Redmayne for playing Stephen Hawking, Meryl Streep for Margaret Thatcher or Helen Mirren for Queen Elizabeth II. 

But even more prominent than the desire to step into the shoes of a well-known political figure or an influential academic is the accolade that can come from playing a fellow artist.

Rami Malek as Freddie Mercury. Joaquin Phoenix as Johnny Cash. Sissy Spacek as Loretta Lynn. Renée Zellweger as Judy Garland. All these performances were heavily praised or award-winning in their own right, but each has the common link of portraying the lives and careers of their respective artists.

Rami Malek Oscars 2019
Rami Malek won the Oscar for Best Actor in 2019 for his portrayal of Freddie Mercury

When we look at the biggest and boldest names in the music industry, Britney Spears is certainly included in the list. As someone who changed the scope of pop music and redefined what it meant to be a celebrity, as well as living through some of the most troubling times that can happen to a megastar, there are few people with lives as astounding and trailblazing as Spears.

So yes, her life would make an incredible movie or series. But just because we could, it doesn’t mean that we should.

Let’s consider the state of the ‘fictionalisation’. With the newest season of The Crown making waves with its ever-present moulding of reality and debates on the ethics of how far we should push fantasy tellings of real events in certain genres, this is a tricky time for biographical stories. But when it comes to Spears, there are even questions focused on whether there should be any media exploration of her life at all, let alone a fictionalised version. 

And this hesitancy is justified. If you’re thinking, “Hey, I’m sure I’ve seen a Britney biopic before,” then you’re probably having some strange fever-dream memory about the 2017 Lifetime Britney biopic nightmare that was Britney Ever After.

In the TV movie that gave the impression of more a thinly-veiled insult than a sincere reflection on her life and impact, Britney Ever After recreates her rise and fall through a cheap lens and holds out her worst moments proudly and says, “Look! What at what a mess she is!”

Guided through the story by an exaggerated and dizzyingly ditzy version of ‘Britney’, Britney Ever After is a prime example of just how spectacularly biopics can fail to honour or even explain a person.

That’s not to say that there couldn’t ever be a high-quality and established venture into Spears’s story, but this example perfectly illustrates how easy it would be to get a story so complex and influential very wrong.

It’s also impossible to bring up this conversation without mentioning her conservatorship. When so many years of her life were lived under the control of her father and without any true power over her own story, how could it be apt to take creative control from her yet again to create a biopic? Unless Speears herself was the creative force behind such a project (and we know from experience that this doesn’t often happen, such as that of Pamela Anderson who did not have a hand in Disney +’s Pam and Tommy).

Free Britney Movement
The #FreeBritney rally in 2021 saw fans calling for the end of the popstar’s conservatorship.

Perhaps the biggest argument against a Britney biopic is the stark fact that the woman herself doesn’t want one.

In the past, Spears has been vocal about the idea of biopics and film adaptations, often voicing her rejection of these on social media. Most recently, she posted on Instagram, writing: 

“I hear about people wanting to do movies about my life … dude I’m not dead!!!”

In another post last year, she spoke about the strangeness of receiving pitches for stories about her own life.

“You know, it’s really puzzling to me because all these people are starting to send me all these scripts of my own life but none of these scripts are even true,’ she said. “Aren’t I supposed by play the role in my own life?”

So, should there be a Britney Spears biopic?

In short, no. The simple fact of the matter is that Spears herself is opposed to the idea, and even if she weren’t able to say so, lack of control is something that has been imposed on her in various forms since the beginning of her stardom. 

It would be too easy to turn the complex, dark, and grandiose odyssey that is Britney Spears’ life into something messy and clumsy in the wrong hands — something that has been done so often with the existence of complex and dark women.

As Millie Bobby Brown said, any story should be told in Spears’s way and in her way alone. Any biographical undertaking should be at the mercy of her full consultation and permission. It’s not impossible. There have been artists able to keep their hands on the creative wheel when it comes to their own history, such as Elton John, Madonna, and Cher.

And if you’re wondering where the line is – the line that separates the acceptable biopics from the non-acceptable, the tacky from the valuable, then there are only three questions we need to ask ourselves:

1. How much input does the subject have?

2. Is it telling us anything new?

3. Is it an earnest exploration of a notable life, or just a money-grabbing rollercoaster ride through someone’s trauma?

We know enough about Spears and what she’s been through to know that she should be left alone. What could a fictionalised script tell us any differently?

Images: Getty, Britney Spears via Instagram

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