“It was as if his chest was exposed”: The People vs. Janet Jackson
Nine sixteenths of a second. This is the time it took to turn Janet Jackson from global pop icon to America’s most controversial woman. Malfunction: Dressing Janet Jackson—The last entry in the The New York Times presents documentary series, a collaboration with FX and Hulu, explores the preparations and fallout of the infamous Super Bowl halftime show where, one way or another, Justin timberlake managed to expose Jackson’s breast to the world for nine sixteenths of a second.
Even after making the documentary, Malfunction director Jodi gomes not sure exactly what led to the incident, or what was shared between Timberlake, Jackson and her wardrobe stylist Wayne Scot Lukas in a private meeting before the show.
“The million dollar question I had all the time was, like, what exactly happened?” Gomes said VF “Only three people know exactly what happened in this room. In the end, I think three people will take this to their graves. “
Malfunction follows The New York Times presents documentaries Controlling Britney Spears and Coaching Britney Spears, a punch that plunged into Britney spearsguardianship and contributed to its dismantling. The parallels between what happened to pop icons Spears and Jackson are not lost on sight. Marie Robertson, who served as showrunner and executive producer for all three documentaries: “Either way you see those moments of collision in which their obvious power and talent collides with how the culture is prepared to receive them at that time.” .
Gomes and Robertson chatted with VF on Zoom to discuss the incident, the aftermath, and the importance of letting Justin Timberlake speak for himself.
Vanity Fair: How did you end up on Janet as the next subject in the series?
Marie Robertson: In the days immediately following the premiere of [first] Britney movie, we started to notice that there were a number of people on Twitter going, “But what about Janet Jackson?” With the Britney films we were so moved to see the power of getting married really rigorously New York Times journalism with subjects that others might have trivialized in the past. It looked like there was definitely an opportunity to do so with the Janet Jackson and Super Bowl story.
Jodi Gomes: Ironically, after the Britney episode, I was one of those people who said, “Hmm, am I wondering about Janet? I got the call shortly after saying that The New York Times was going to explore it. One of the things that attracted me was that this was one of those stories where I think we all think we know it until you come in and start peeling the layers off the onion. .
You interviewed characters from all sides of the incident: Tito Jackson, Republican Senator Sam Brownback, chairman of the Parents Television and Media Council. How did you decide who to talk to?
Gomes: I really wanted to see what the facts corroborated because it had been so long. There were so many things I had forgotten – those nine sixteenths of a second Congress used to [try to] change the law. The people who contributed to this had very strong beliefs and still believe in the mission they had to accomplish to this day. I happened to be on the other side of America, it was like, what’s the matter? But it was a big deal for a lot of people. I think you have to show both sides of the equation in order to tell a fair and balanced story.
As Controlling Britney Spears, Malfunction does a meticulous job of showing Janet’s natural talent and her rise to Super Bowl headlining status. How did you balance the part of his art that you had to represent versus the controversy?
Gomes: I wanted to make sure we show that she was a trailblazer. Many artists today wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t have the agency they have without Janet Jackson. Much of her free will and much of her freedom as a woman, and in particular as a black woman, has been used against her. And so I thought it was important to show the rise at the same time as the fall.
One of the ways Britney and Janet’s stories are quite similar is the presence of Justin Timberlake. I was blown away by the way he spoke about the situation in archival footage. How did you navigate Justin Timberlake?