The new documentary "Framing Britney Spears' explores how both tabloid and mainstream media outlets first framed the American megastar as a hypersexualized Lolita, then a bad role model and finally an unstable mother. The film, produced by The New York Times, explores how the news coverage may have led to Spears being placed under a legal conservatorship in 2008 — giving her father Jamie Spears control over her fortune.
The filmmakers follow the #FreeBritney movement, an online protest of fans and supporters pushing to give back control to Spears of her approximately $60 million in net worth. Many in the movement have called out supposed encrypted cries for help in posts on the now 39-year-old pop star's Instagram feed, one of her few seemingly uncensored outlets for expression. Since the documentary's release, the movement had a significant victory when a judge allowed the establishment of Bessemer Trust as a co-conservator, taking some power away from her dad.
The Princess has accused her father of holding her hostage — Photo: FreeLatifa Instagram page
As much as this reads like a very American show biz tale, across the world in the United Arab Emirates, a rather more extreme version of the same father-daughter dynamic is also playing out across social media. The BBC has published videos that Princess Latifa, the daughter of Dubai's ruler, secretly recorded from a locked bathroom in which she says she fears for her life.
The Princess, 35, has accused her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum of holding her hostage in Dubai since she tried to flee the UAE city in 2018. Amidst global outrage (including by the campaign #FreeLatifa), the United Nations said it will question the UAE about her situation.
While Dubai has become a rich, global capital under Sheikh Mohammed's rule, many women still face harsh restrictions on their personal liberties. And the Sheikh himself is said to have "at least" six wives, including one, Princess Haya, who also fled in 2019, going to London after hearing about Latifa's abduction.
A decade ago, social media was hailed as a new tool to lead pro-democracy movements in the Middle East and give voice to those traditionally shut off from the public sphere. But lately Facebook, Twitter and other platforms have been seen more and more as a toxic public square of fake news, violence and a threat to democracy.
The coinciding hashtag campaigns on behalf of #Britney and #Latifa show that the internet still has the power to move events in a positive direction. But the stories of these two very different princesses are also a reminder that the patriarchy is still firmly in control just about everywhere in the real world.