“I don’t know what we are going to do now, after so much work.” The one speaking is Pilar Vigneaux, head of communication for the Free Britney movement (“free Britney”). From Los Angeles and via video call, he explains how a citizen movement, created organically and without a defined institutional structure, put pressure on the system to free Britney Spears. Last week, Californian judge Brenda Penny ended the 39-year-old singer’s guardianship after more than 13 in which the artist’s father controlled her personal and professional life. The California Supreme Court, in Los Angeles, thus gave Spears back control over her day-to-day life, her career and her money. The pop princess, who had been assigned a weekly pay of 1,500 dollars (about 1,300 euros), wrote on her Instagram: “I know how shameful it is to confess that you never [durante la duración de la tutela] I have seen cash or have been able to drive my car ”.
However, Spears’ battle is not over after the judge’s decision. In the same Instagram post, in which she shows her willingness to give an interview to the presenter Oprah Winfrey (who already spoke with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in a controversial meeting), the one from Louisiana assures that, as a strong woman she consider, you will fight to help others who are going through the same thing. “I can’t imagine what the system is doing to them, I hope my story has an impact and manages to change this corrupt system,” he says. In addition, the first statement before the judge that he was allowed, on June 23, suggests that Spears could take legal action against all those responsible for his guardianship. “Your Honor, my dad and everyone involved in this custody, including my agent [Lou Taylor], which had a key role in my punishment … they should be in prison, “he claimed then.
If the singer decides to go ahead with these demands, she would have clear support: that of the Free Britney movement. The artist has already thanked on several occasions the work of these followers, who raised awareness about the artist’s situation. “To the Free Britney movement… Guys, rock it. My voice has been silenced and threatened for so long… I couldn’t speak for myself, and because of your conscience about what was happening and your effort to inform the world… Thanks to you, I think you have saved my life, ”Spears wrote in Instagram. But where does this group of activists come from that has shed light on a case that had been in the shadows for more than a decade?
Pilar Vigneaux explains the nature of the citizen movement of this group: there is no founder. “Nobody decided to create it, it was a rather organic thing that happened on social networks.” In fact, the very origin of the name is not clear. One of the first people to use it was Jordan Miller, who opened the Breathe Heavy page more than a decade ago, in which he questioned the guardianship of Britney Spears. “It is rumored that you coined the phrase”, mentions the journalist Mobeen Azhar in the documentary The battle for Britney (Movistar +). Miller concedes: “I used it a lot then, but at that time the labels didn’t exist yet.” It was in January 2009, a few months after the conservatorship began, that he wrote: “Open your eyes! Free Britney! ”. Vigneaux explains that Megan Radford, one of the founders of the movement (along with Leanne Simmons and Kevin Wu), first printed the phrase on a T-shirt that same year.
According to Miller’s account in the documentary, after several publications he received a call from Britney Spears’s father, Jamie, and a posteriori several messages from the lawyers appointed by the system to the singer, in which they threatened him to close the page. Bypassing this peak of popularity, the movement and the denunciations were diluted and for a decade they were limited to the pages of followers of the princess of pop.
In April 2019, what Vigneaux describes as a “momentum “ (events that expanded the movement). The podcast Britney’s Gram, which dealt with different issues around the singer, received an audio from a person who claimed to work on the guardianship team, and said that everything was much worse than they might think. That same month, the first demonstration of the movement was organized, in front of the West Hollywood City Hall. In May, they changed the location to the Stanley Mosk Courthouse, home of the California Supreme Court, a tradition they have upheld ever since. And they were organized around a page where all the information they collected was published, freebritney.army.
The other milestone for these activists came this year with the documentary Framing Britney Spears, From the newspaper The New York Times (also available in Spain at Movistar +), for which they worked hand in hand with its director, Samantha Stark. This audiovisual piece gave the definitive impulse to the cause, and popularized it even among those who do not consider themselves followers of the singer. “I’ve never been a fan of knowing all his songs,” confesses Vigneaux.
In fact, the head of communication acknowledges that she was not involved in the movement until the pandemic. “Probably, I had more time, I had already finished Netflix and I began to inform myself about the situation. I thought something was wrong there and I decided to go to them ”. He contacted Kevin Wu, who opened the accounts for Instagram and Twitter @freebritneyla, and asked if they sent information to the media, to which the media replied no. He offered to help.
One of the movement’s strategies, in the demonstrations, consisted of inviting people who suffered similar situations to share their experience and help raise awareness about this guardianship system. Another of his actions involved buying court documents. “You can get them here for about $ 100, depending on the number of pages,” Vigneaux explains about access to judicial information in California. “There are several Instagram accounts dedicated to reading these documents and explaining them.” One of them is that of BJ Courville, @thatsurprisewitness. The communication officer of the movement says that this lawyer found a TikTok that talked about the theories about Spears’s situation and decided to find out to show that it was a conspiracy theory. “When he started, he realized that no [se trataba de una conspiración], and that the Constitution was denied to the object of the guardianship. With her we learned a lot and began to organize ourselves more ”.
The movement, in addition to buying court documents from the singer’s case to inform itself, sets up stages in its demonstrations and organizes events. Where does the money for these expenses come from? “Each one puts what they can,” says Vigneaux. “We make an effort to finance ourselves. We have received some donations, but Coca-Cola does not sponsor us ”, jokes this Chilean, who works with Free Britney from her country.
On November 12, the artist’s nightmare ended when the judge ended the guardianship. Although the main objective of the movement has been fulfilled, the fight has not ended here. What matters most to them is the well-being of their idol, and that he does what she wants. “It has been a difficult process, it has been through a lot. You have to decide about your life, ”says Vineaux. And she clarifies: “Now, for us it is important, and she has also expressed it this way, that those who put it there assume the legal consequences. On the other hand, she has not spoken about this, but she must get her money back. He has released records, toured, we estimate that he should have 600 million dollars in his account, and he has 60 million, 10% ”.
Britney Spears has already said that she will give a voice to people who do not have it and that she will fight to change the system. His testimony in June raised political dust. Democratic Senator Bob Casey said in an interview, according to Political: “It doesn’t matter who you are or where you stand politically, just by hearing that … The degree of control that has been exercised over your life is worrying.” Republican Ted Cruz declared: “I think what happens to Britney Spears is totally ridiculous, and it must stop.” And a group of Republicans invited the artist to go to Congress to relate her case.
Whatever is decided, the Free Britney movement will continue there, supporting the singer and fighting to make visible a system that they consider, as the artist called, corrupt. For now, short-term plans are to continue celebrating Britney Spears’ recent release. They have already organized a party on December 2, when the pop princess will turn 40, to toast her new life.
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