Britney Spears’ curatorial role: its impact on child actors

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Born on the set of “Raising Arizona,” retired child star Sabra Boyd watches as Spears’ Guardianship talks about the abuse that threatens many young performers.

When Britney Spears’ attorney, Matthew Rosengart, appears in Los Angeles Estates Court on September 29 before Judge Brenda Penny and pleads for the release of her client from a 13-year-old guardianship overseen by her ex-father, the motion seeks to correct a wrong that began long before #freebritney, or Chris Crocker’s plea 14 years ago for “Leave Britney alone!” Or even his debut in 1993 at the Mickey Mouse Club.

Spears’ abuse of guardianship, which made her the legal equivalent of a child, also speaks of abuse that threatens many child artists – kidfluencers, TikTok and reality stars, and anyone alive. in the 44 states that do not embrace the Coogan Act. Child labor laws have not kept up with the entertainment landscape, and it’s children who suffer

As a former child actor who later became a homeless teenager, I think a lot about stage parents and our inadequate child labor laws. My father was a violent criminal who stole my identity; my mom gave birth to me while she was working on the set of “Raising Arizona” by the Coen brothers. When my parents no longer saw me as a valuable asset, my mother kicked me out at 14 because I was gay. Homelessness has freed me from my parents’ exploitation.

“There’s the old school ‘kids as property’ mindset that we all say we’ve gotten away from,” said actress Alison Arngrim, who played Nellie in “The Little House on the Prairie” at the age of 12. “But when the going gets tough and there is money at stake, people will refer to it very quickly.

Arngrim is now the California president, national spokesperson and founding member of the board of directors of the National Association to Protect Children. “When you say ‘kids in entertainment’ most people think of rich kids,” she said. “They don’t think of the fellow actor who isn’t rich and who hoped for money to go to school at 18. They don’t see the children, toddlers and infants in the schools. reality shows, which don’t ‘I don’t even have health and safety protection.

To protect child artists, California, New Mexico, Illinois, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, and New York have passed versions of the Coogan Act, named after child actor Jackie Coogan who discovered that his mother and stepfather had stolen millions he had earned. Penniless after barely surviving the car crash that killed his father and best friend, Coogan borrowed money from his childhood co-star, Charlie Chaplin, and sued his mother in 1938 at the age of 23 for a fraction of what was left.

A century later, parental lawsuits remain Coogan’s most common law enforcement tool, but many artists cannot afford the legal fees to pursue a case. In 2000, California passed an amendment requiring parents of students to open a trust and save 15% of their children’s income.

Britney Spears fans hold signs outside a court hearing regarding the pop singer’s guardianship at the Stanley Mosk courthouse on March 17, 2021, in Los Angeles.

PA

According to entertainment lawyer Brian J. Murphy, “Unless new legislation is enacted, the only legal recourse for the child actor is to wait until the age of 18 to file a petition with a child actor. California Superior Court for the release of funds from the Coogan account, assuming the parents opened a Coogan account to begin with.

Arngrim said many people in the business mistakenly believe that the Coogan law is already federal law and choose to follow its standards voluntarily, even when they are filming in a state without legal protection – but in truth, child performers are not protected if they live and work in a state without labor laws to protect them. Atlanta is a real Hollywood hub: Marvel is filming there, UTA has just opened an office and is home to the massive Tyler Perry Studios – but the state of Georgia offers no version of the Coogan Act.

As the entertainment landscape expands, our labor laws have become dangerously outdated. The latest amendment to the Coogan Act even predates MySpace; Murphy said that to his knowledge, social media “kidfluencers” are not protected by law.

Archaic child labor laws do little to protect children from exploitation on social media platforms, especially when you no longer need a parent to drive you to hearings in Los Angeles. Angeles or New York. Today you can get endorsement deals and become famous on the internet anywhere with WiFi and decent lighting. YouTube stars like Ryan Kaji from Texas, Instagram’s Stauffer vlogging family from Ohio, and rising stars from TikTok live in states without a version of the Coogan Law to prevent kids from working too many hours and working too long. potentially falling prey to predatory parents who see their children as money – generating resources from which to extract content.

SAG-AFTRA began inviting influencers to join the union in February 2021, but exploitative parents have little incentive to register their children when it means more control and oversight. If you rely on likes and clicks on your child’s face to generate income, it’s hard to know when they’re off the clock – playing just for fun, not for income. If your kid makes unboxing videos but has a temper tantrum the day it’s due for the company’s approval deal, will you let them take a nap instead?

Reality TV is another area of ​​entertainment that lacks legal checks and balances for children. Pennsylvania’s version of the Coogan Act was not passed until State Representative Thomas Murt expressed concern that the animals in Discovery Channel’s “Kate Plus 8” had more protections than the animals. children. Because kids aren’t included in most reality TV contracts, “they’re not treated like employees,” Arngrim said. “Parents treat them, in many cases, as props.”

Agriculture and entertainment are the two main industries in the United States exempt from federal restrictions on child labor, with regulations largely left to individual states. If social media influencers and their kids are any indication, it is a national concern. If people can commodify someone’s childhood and sell it in the form of content, movie, or advertisement, and if we revoke their privacy before they can even consent, then we are all complicit in making children artists what is done at Britney Spears.

“We don’t have Coogan laws for wonderful parents who put all their children’s money aside for college. It’s not written for them, ”says Arngrim. “Unfortunately, a few terrible people are messing things up and we absolutely have to legislate.”

Arngrim offers some optimism. The Actors Fund Looking Ahead program, which supports miners working in the company, was made possible in 2003 through the concerted efforts of The Actors Fund, SAG-AFTRA and actor Paul Petersen’s organization A Minor Consideration . Arngrim also recommends that young artists use the SAG-AFTRA hotlines for assistance.

Few child performers have the money, fame, and resources of Spears; even fewer will have the momentum of the #FreeBritney movement defending the legal system on their behalf. The money I made as a child actor is long gone, but sometimes I regret that I didn’t sue my parents. My first job was at six months old. Ironically, I was presented as a naked baby wearing a graduation cap, toothless gnawing at a diploma to advertise a bank’s college savings account that I would never have had. A trust with the money I earned would have helped me pay the interest on my endless student loans – or for the therapy I needed.

Sabra Boyd is a freelance writer and “retired” child actor working on a dissertation on Child Sex Trafficking Survival, Teen Homelessness, and Birth on the Set of the Coen Brothers’ movie Raising Arizona. She lives in Seattle where she writes on exploitation, healthcare, food and agriculture, homelessness, human trafficking, technology and cults. His work will be included in the anthology Jenji Kohan’s women, released in March 2022.

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