Although the documentary was meant to explore the #FreeBritney movement and her ongoing conservatorship, fans particularly latched on to a portion of the doc that re-examined her relationship with the former member of *NSYNC, which lasted from 1998 to 2002. After one of the most dramatic breakups in pop history, Spears’ reputation took a massive hit.
The film discusses how Timberlake pushed the narrative that Spears had cheated on him—and the public blowback was severe. “The way that people treated her, to be very high school about it, was like she was the school slut and he was the quarterback,” NYT critic at large Wesley Morris says in the film.
Morris suggests Timberlake weaponized his music video for “Cry Me a River” to place blame on Spears. It’s almost chilling to then hear Timberlake, the supposed victim, jeer about having sex with Spears in a raunchy post-breakup radio interview featured in the documentary.
“Justin Timberlake has done a lot of sh*t that he needs to apologize for, but his treatment of Britney is at the top of the list,” one Twitter user wrote. “I want a public apology, and acknowledgment of the harm he’s done.”
It should be noted that in 2006—a full four years after their breakup—Timberlake released another potential diss track, “What Goes Around… Comes Around,” while Spears was publicly struggling with her second divorce and sobriety.
Aside from the toxic nature of Timberlake’s narrative, fans are also reflecting on the way the pop star was treated throughout her career—from incessant questions from the press about her virginity and body to the misogynistic response to her breakup from Timberlake.
The documentary also highlights a 2003 interview with Diane Sawyer, where the journalist leans into Timberlake’s story by asking Spears, “what did you do?”
During the interview, Sawyer also seemingly justified a quote from the former governor of Maryland’s wife Kendel Ehrlich, in which she says she would shoot Britney Spears if she had an opportunity. “Oh, that’s horrible. That’s really bad,” Spears said in response to the quote. “Because of the example to kids and how hard it is to be a parent,” Sawyer counters.
“I wish I personally knew better then,” Terron Moore tweeted. “It’s nothing short of terrifying to see so clearly laid out what we as a culture did to this woman who absolutely didn’t deserve any of it.”