When Framing Britney Spears took over the news earlier this year, another female celebrity’s conservatorship lingered on the edge of public conversation. Is Amanda Bynes, whose conservatorship began in 2014, stuck in a similarly demoralizing battle? And if so, is #FreeAmanda next?
The terms of Bynes’ conservatorship remain largely unknown; as similar as her case might appear to Spears’ on the surface, they also differ in crucial ways. But it appears public concern for the Nickelodeon star is growing nonetheless.
In a statement, Bynes’ attorney David Esquibias told The Daily Beast, “There is no comparison between Britney and Amanda’s conservatorship. Britney’s conservatorship is over her estate and person whereas Amanda’s conservatorship is for her person only. Britney wants out of her conservatorship. Amanda understands the benefits of her conservatorship and is content with the arrangement for now.”
Earlier this week, Esquibias found himself clarifying a statement he’d made about Bynes’ most recent conservatorship hearing—after outraged fans began spreading the call to #FreeBynes alongside Britney.
On Monday Us Weekly reported that a judge had reviewed Bynes’ medical care and deemed it satisfactory. With Bynes’ next hearing scheduled for next January, Esquibias told the magazine that Bynes was doing “great.”
“Everyone would love to see Amanda not under a conservatorship,” Esquibias said. “I think that is the goal between myself, her mother, her father, and her care providers. Amanda would love to be unconserved. She’s expressed it over and over. The timing is not right at the moment, so she’s working toward that direction. We all are working toward that direction, and one day we all hope to see it.”
That statement didn’t sit well with some of Bynes’ fans, the most ardent of whom have begun drawing parallels with Spears’ controversial guardianship.
Then came the clarification—offered, naturally, to Us competitor People.
“[Bynes’] conservatorship is not extended through March 2023. It is open day to day,” Esquibias said. “A status report regarding her health and welfare was recently filed and approved by the court. By law, the next status report is due in two years. Her conservatorship will terminate when it is no longer convenient for Amanda.”
It seems unlikely that a massive fan movement on the scale of #FreeBritney will rally behind Bynes any time soon. As NBC News noted in a recent piece comparing the two cases and their public perception, Bynes’ audience—considerable as it was in her heyday—was nonetheless incomparable to Spears’.
“You could say, ‘Well they were both young kind of child stars, had this pressure, and they wound up in these obviously overlapping conservatorships,’” Newsroom PR CEO and former People writer Howard Breuer told NBC. “But there's a lot of differences there.”
It seems inevitable, however, that #FreeBynes will only continue to pick up steam in a post-Framing Britney Spears world—in part, ironically, because the same tabloids that profited from Spears’ and Bynes’ erratic public behavior now stand to make more money by scrutinizing the institutional constraints that bind them.
Bynes’ conservatorship began in 2014 after she tweeted that her father had abused her verbally, physically and sexually. “My lawyer said if I comply with the courts and take my meds and see my psychologist and pyshchiatrist [sic] weekly then I will get unconserved. Thank GOD,” Bynes wrote. She later retracted the statements and attributed them to a “microchip” her father had implanted in her brain as her mother and siblings issued statements denying any abuse had taken place.
Bynes was placed on a psychiatric hold, and her conservatorship hearing took place during her hospitalization. A month after her tweets alleging abuse, the actress shared that she’d been diagnosed with bipolar and manic depressive disorder.
The similarities between Spears’ and Bynes’ narratives are both mundane and, in some cases, uncanny. Both women became famous at a young age—Spears on the talent and Mickey Mouse Club circuit, and Bynes on Nickelodeon’s All That. The paparazzi followed both young women like vultures as their erratic behavior escalated—Spears in the late aughts and Bynes in the early 2010s—and in a bizarre twist the mysterious Sam Lufti became a prominent figure in both cases. The public gawked over photos of Bynes in a blonde wig just years after they’d gotten their fill of Spears shaving her head. Their mothers’ names happen to be Lynne and Lynn.
As Breuer pointed out, however, the similarities between these cases shouldn’t overshadow their distinctions.
One of the defining factors in Spears’ conservatorship battle was the evident hypocrisy of claims that she was too incompetent to manage her life despite an ongoing stream of television appearances and musical performances. Spears continued to work in the public eye and parent her two sons while her “guardians” claimed she was unfit to leave the house without permission, and controlled both her medical and financial affairs.
Bynes has stepped back from entertaining—she released a rap song, “Diamonds,” earlier this year but gave her last screen performance more than a decade ago in Easy A. Still, the tabloid swarm around her ongoing work around her mental health has not stopped. Last year, Esquibias said Bynes had sought mental health treatment after the actress and her fiancé implied they were expecting a baby on Instagram and shared sonogram images. (The couple deleted their posts, and Esquibias later refuted the pregnancy.)
And while Spears has fought publicly to curb her father’s control over her finances and affairs, Lynn Bynes requested to end her control over her daughter’s estate in 2017 while retaining control over her medical and personal affairs. NBC reports that Bynes’ funds now reside in a trust.
Still, Framing Britney Spears has sparked a broader conversation around conservatorships, and how they can be used to rob elderly and disabled people of their autonomy. It seems inevitable that Bynes’ most devout fans will gain traction as time goes on and tabloid coverage of her conservatorship hearings ramps up. Britney Spears’ impassioned testimony has already inspired a transparency bill that continues to make its way through California’s state legislature. Speaking with NBC, attorney Sarah Wentz said that increased oversight in high-profile conservatorship cases—which are often, like Bynes’, kept sealed—could encourage some public trust.
For all their narrative synchronicities, perhaps the most meaningful parallel between Bynes and Spears is how the public seems to feel about them now. Regret tinges the discourse surrounding both women—remorse from a gossip-loving public that has only just begun to grapple with the ways modern celebrity and tabloid culture commodify human trauma at the expense of humanity itself. Regardless of what comes next for either of these women, however, one hopes that the concerns surrounding their civil rights will continue to advance a conversation that includes their less famous counterparts.