Eau de Exclusion in Netflix’s White Hot
by John Downey '23 on May 6, 2022
Arts & Entertainment
Eau de Exclusion in Netflix’s White Hot
Documentary Exposes Abercrombie & Fitch’s Problematic History
Caitlin Ariel ’24
“A lot of people don’t belong in our clothes, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.” This 2006 comment from former Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries summarizes Netflix’s latest exposé, White Hot: The Rise & Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch, quite nicely. For many 90s kids, Jeffries’s words are hardly shocking, but for 2000s babies such as Providence College students, this blunt admission probably comes as a bit of a surprise.
From the prominent cologne smell that seemed to follow shoppers out of the store to the absurdly loud clubbing music and posters of shirtless men on the walls that made moms antsy as their kids inched towards the entrance, the Abercrombie & Fitch shopping experience was a collective core memory for American youth in the late 90s and early 2000s. A&F clothing was the encapsulation of being “cool.” Customers were not merely buying overpriced pants or button-down shirts, but an image, one that screamed, “Look at me, I’m cool!”
But while middle schoolers were focused on finding the shirt with the biggest A&F-signature moose logo that they could show off in their school hallways, older teenagers and adults began to notice a startling brand trend: nearly all models and employees were white, blonde, and skinny.
In White Hot, award-winning director Alison Klayman walks viewers through how Abercrombie & Fitch’s exclusionary image of the “all-American teen” led to both its rise and fall before undergoing a major rebranding in the early 2000s. Klayman spoke to journalists as well as former A&F retail staff, corporate employees, and models about their experiences with the company and how being a part of an organization rooted in exclusion impacted them.
One particularly eye-opening portion of the film dove into the store’s “look,” or what was deemed acceptable for salespeople to wear. Dreadlocks and chains were strictly prohibited, and when people of color were employed, they were very rarely allowed to work the floor, relegated to the stock room or closing shift. This blatant discrimination led to a class-action lawsuit against A&F in 2003.
Notably, the documentary also spotlights the unsettling story of A&F photographer Bruce Weber. As male models interviewed for the documentary explained, Weber took an inappropriate interest in them, resulting in a sexual misconduct lawsuit in the early 2000s.
To Abercrombie & Fitch’s young audience, being cool and popular was worth more than any pair of skinny jeans. However, the brand’s exclusionary vision facilitated classism, racism, homophobia, and fatphobia. This injustice is at the center of White Hot. However, the documentary also recognizes that many of the people who were bluntly excluded from A&F in the early 2000s are those who are making changes in the fashion industry today, with many brands, including A&F, taking steps to be more inclusive. Needless to say, exclusion in fashion is far from a thing of the past.
Another Documentary, Another Major Milestone
by The Cowl Editor on October 7, 2021
Arts & Entertainment
Another Documentary, Another Major Milestone
Controlling Britney Spears Released as Court Makes Decision on Conservatorship
Nikki Idelson ’22
The New York Times’ new documentary, Controlling Britney Spears, offers new insight into the oppressive conservatorship singer Britney Spears has been placed under for over a decade.
What is a conservatorship? According to the BBC, a conservatorship is “granted by a court for individuals who are unable to make their own decisions, like those with dementia or other mental illnesses.” Spears’ conservatorship was put in place “in 2008 when she faced a public mental health crisis.”
As the years have passed, Britney has proven that she is in a much better place now than she was when the conservatorship was put into effect, yet this controlling mechanism is still in place. As a result, Spears lacks freedom and the right to make her own decisions.
Recently, Spears has spoken out about the conservatorship, claiming that not only has it been oppressive in itself, but also that her father, Jamie Spears, who is the conservator, is to blame for the conditions she has been forced to endure.
According to The New York Times, “as early as 2014, in a hearing closed to the public, Ms. Spears’ court-appointed lawyer, Samuel D Ingham III, said she wanted to explore removing her father as conservator.” Spears believes that her father has a drinking problem as well as other issues that prevent him from being a just and effective conservator.
Earlier this year, The New York Times produced a documentary that helped to shed light on how Spears found herself in this conservatorship and how it has affected her life. This documentary, Framing Britney Spears, has been eye-opening in terms of understanding the true details of this conservatorship, especially what it was like for Spears to live under its control.
Over the summer, Spears was given her first opportunity to reveal how truly oppressive and controlling the conservatorship had been for her. The New York Times reports, following her testimony, “key insiders have come forward to talk publicly for the first time about what they saw.”
This milestone in Spears’ struggle for her freedom led The New York Times to release a second documentary about her life and conservatorship, Controlling Britney Spears, on Friday, Sept. 24. This sequel documentary focuses on the experiences that people close to Spears had with working with her, as well as with her father, while she was under this conservatorship.
Every person that is featured in the documentary has worked with Britney in some capacity and has seen how both Jamie and the conservatorship have been an oppressive force on her life. In one scene, Spears’ former assistant, who was very close with her, describes how she always supported and advocated for her, which Jamie and the team did not like. This tension led Spears’ team to turn the singer and her former assistant against one another. This is just one example of many that demonstrate how controlling Jamie and the rest of Spears’ team have been to her.
Another former employee, Alex Vlasov, who worked for Spears’ security team for years, also discusses his experience working with the Spears in the new documentary. According to The New York Times, Jamie instructed the security team to “run an intense surveillance apparatus that monitored [Spears’] communications and secretly captured audio recordings from her bedroom, including her interactions and conversations with her boyfriend and children.” Vlasov expresses how he felt uncomfortable with having to do this, as it was a complete invasion of Spears’ privacy. According to The New York Times, he revealed that “it really reminded me of somebody that was in prison. And security was put in a position to be the prison guards essentially.” This new documentary has been imperative to shedding even more light on what the conservatorship was truly like for the singer.
Following the release of the documentary, Spears had a court hearing on Sept. 27, which marked another major milestone in her quest for freedom. According to NPR, “at Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday afternoon, Judge Brenda J. Penny decided to suspend Jamie Spears as the conservator of his daughter’s estate.” This decision removes her father as conservator, which is a major step in the right direction to freeing Britney from her extremely controlling conservatorship.
This ruling does not completely free her for the time being as “John Zabel, a certified public accountant, will step into that role for now,” but he is only serving as the conservator temporarily until Spears has her next hearing. According to NPR, this hearing is “scheduled for Nov. 12. At that point, the judge plans to terminate the conservatorship—freeing the 39-year-old star.” After a thirteen-year battle, Spears will hopefully finally be free from her controlling conservatorship.
Controlling Britney Spears is now available to stream on services including Netflix and Hulu.
Netflix’s New Documentary, Operation Varsity Blues
by Sara Conway on April 15, 2021
Film and Television
Exposing the Perverted College Admissions Scandal
by Dave Argento ’21 A&E Staff
Providence students are not likely to hold fond memories surrounding the standardized testing and application process that haunts most high school juniors in the United States. Beyond the pressures of future career prospects and connections being influenced by colleges attended, parental expectations have managed to warp the priorities of a young adult’s educational flourishing into a toxic rat race for bragging rights. Netflix’s new documentary, Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, dives into how independent college counselor Rick Singer capitalized on the college admissions industry through his illegal scheme exposed in 2019.
Singer’s system brought in approximately $25 million from wealthy parents; he would bribe coaches and administrators so that their children would have surefire ways of being admitted into the most prestigious colleges in the country. Singer often used the phrase “side door” when selling the metaphor for his services to celebrities like Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman to show how he would subvert the known, legal paths to student acceptance. With top ranked colleges becoming increasingly difficult to get into through the “front door” of the standard application process and the exorbitant price tag on the “backdoor” of donating tens of millions of dollars to schools to buy acceptance, wealthy parents disregarded moral judgements to use Singer’s side door option.
Singer used many techniques to pull off his heinous operation. His primary method involved bribing notable members of coaching staffs and athletic departments at top schools to commit players to their teams that often had never even played the sport. Admission via sports teams of lesser notoriety subverted the usual criteria for acceptance if coaches gave approval, allowing Singer to get students through this channel for years. His other method of having students fake learning disabilities so that their private proctor could take their standardized tests to near perfection made genius applicants out of ordinary students in the eyes of those judging applications. Following the scandal, there have been investigations and crack downs on both the student athlete recruiting processes and the standardized testing protocols.
Lauren Kranc of Esquire writes, “In total, 50 people—33 wealthy and influential parents, two SAT and ACT administrators, one exam proctor, nine college athletics coaches, and one college administrator—were charged in Operation Varsity Blues.” The documentary combines acted -out portrayals of the major players within the scandal with real life interviews from some of those who worked to bring Singer and his clients down in the FBI’s operation. To this day, Singer has yet to be sentenced or to spend any time in prison, as his assistance with exposing many of his clients to authorities earned him some leniency with the law.
The college search and acceptance process has always had inequality based on income, but Operation Varsity Blues shows how many of the nation’s wealthiest went beyond the law in disregarding morality to favor what could be debated as either parental egotism or doing the best for their children. Netflix’s documentaries have continued to bring greater transparency to specific topics that might have the mainstream reach to force greater reform within the U.S college admissions process. Operation Varsity Blues may just be the tip of the iceberg