Like millions of others around the world, Reese Witherspoon watched Framing Britney Spears, the New York Times documentary, released earlier this year, which covers the way Spears was treated by the media when she was at the height of her fame, as well as the conservatorship she’s been under since her public mental breakdown in 2008.
But unlike most viewers, Witherspoon could relate to Spears’ situation: in the early 2000s, both women were household names—Spears for singing and Witherspoon for acting. Both were going through public divorces—Witherspoon to fellow actor Ryan Phillippe and Spears to dancer Kevin Federline. Furthermore, Both Spears and Witherspoon had two young children during this tough period.
However, each woman was treated completely differently by the media. Spears was harassed and painted as mentally unfit, while Witherspoon was shown to be a well-put-together young mother.
In a new interview with Time magazine Witherspoon said she considers herself “lucky” to have been labeled one of the “good” girls in Hollywood, a simple distinction that meant she was treated differently to other young women in the spotlight, like Spears, Paris Hilton, and Lindsay Lohan.
Witherspoon said that because she and the likes of actor Jennifer Garner were considered “good,” it meant even if she was filmed screaming at paparazzi, like Spears was, the incidents never stuck to her reputation as they did to other famous women. “My children will tell you stories about being in preschool and people climbing on the roofs of our cars,” she told Time.
“What if the media had decided I was something else? I would be in a totally different position,” she says. “I want to say it’s my decisions or the career choices I made, but it felt very arbitrary. And kind of sh-tty.”
Referencing the need for change in Hollywood, Witherspoon spoke about the Me Too and Time’s Up movements as well as a “secret initiative”, saying “one day I’ll tell you what happened” in full. Though she wouldn’t go into much detail, she says Shonda Rhimes put her up to calling 30 business leaders in Hollywood who had no women or people of colour on their boards.
“There was something about Shonda believing that I could,” she says. “I was proud of myself.” And there’s the group text. “Whenever I feel discouraged, I have a group of women. We all text each other, and we’re like: Just keep going.”