Girlhood follows two teen girls from Baltimore who have committed serious crimes. Shanae got into a fight with a friend when she was twelve and stabbed her to death. Megan was in the foster care system, ran away several times, and attacked another teen with a box cutter. They were both put in the Waxter Juvenile Facility, which is part of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. Both young women have serious psychological issues. Shanae was gang raped at the age of 10, and soon got into drinking and drug use. Megan's mother had serious substance abuse problems, which is why Megan was brought up by her grandmother and in foster homes. Garbus's film follows the girls over a period of three years, showing some of their treatment in institutions and then their attempts to survive once they return to city life in Baltimore.
Garbus's film shows both social issues and psychological dynamics. We see both girls with members of their families. Megan has lots of anger at her mother for her unreliability and for abandoning her. In the DVD commentary, Garbus also says that Megan has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder but hasn't received good psychiatric care. We see Megan go through major shifts in emotions and get into some serious arguments, which makes for some powerful scenes and gives us a better understanding of how Megan gets into trouble. We also see Shanae come to a better emotional understanding of the crime she has committed, and the circumstances that led to it. She decides she wants to finish high school once she gets back to Baltimore, and her commitment carries her through. We also see her with her mother and how she survives the loss of her mother soon after she is released from Waxter; she shows great strength and determination so it is no surprise to learn that she has gone on to do with helping other girls in similar situations as her since the release of the movie.
Girlhood is a moving documentary that shows both psychological and social causes of crime and violence committed by young women. Through following them over a period of three years, Garbus allows viewers to get a bigger picture of their lives, and she also forms close connections with them, so they pay no attention to the camera. It would make good viewing for undergraduate classes in psychology and sociology.
Link: Girlhood webpage at Wellspring
© 2008 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.