“Girl Hood” is a documentary film directed and produced by Liz Garbus that follows two teenage girls, Shanae and Megan, over the span of three years, from the time they are in the all-girls juvenile detention center at Thomas J.S Waxter Children’s Center in Laurel, Maryland, to when they are out in the real world. The film opens with the title card, “In the United States, during the last decade, the number of young girls committing violent crimes has more than doubled”. Footage of the two girls is then followed along with more title cards that give insight into the crimes they have committed. At twelve years old Shanae was involved in a fight that ended with Shanae stabbing and killing a young girl. Megan, 16, was also involved in a fight and was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon. The primary objective of the film is an exploration into the social implications for the increase of crime committed by young women such as Shanae and Megan. “Girl Hood” was released in 2003 and since then has won many awards. Shanae and Megan’s story has reached a large audience and even caught the attention of talk show host Oprah Winfrey, however, many are critical of its overambitious attempts and lack of direction. “Girl Hood” has been praised for it’s informative content and for raising awareness on a number of issues young people in detention centers face on a daily basis and how their lives lead to a life similar to their parents. On the other hand, “Girl Hood” creates an uncomfortable comparison between Shanae and Megan and their relationship with their mothers. Because the film does not incorporate the juvenile system that fails Megan and others like her, the focus of the film becomes on the distinction between mothers who neglect their children and mothers who do not. One perspective on the film “Girl Hood” is that it is a highly informative documentary film in which the director does a spectacular job revealing to the world the issues young women such as Megan and Shanae face on a daily basis. Issues such as child neglect, failure of the foster care system, alcoholism and drug abuse. The film is also said to be informative regarding the significance of the relationship between mothers and daughters.
An alternate perspective of “Girl Hood” is that it is a film that tries too hard to achieve an ending on a positive note. For example, the filmmaker emphasizes Shanae’s growth since leaving Waxter. Additionally, the film has been criticized for having the drama move the film along. For example, once the girls are out of Waxter, we see Shanae is doing well in school and even goes to her prom. The film then changes focus on Megan and her deteriorating relationship with her mother. After Megan and her mother have falling out and are no longer speaking, the film again shifts focus to Shanae, who has now just lost her mother to heart failure. Additionally, the film has also been criticized for ignoring the workers at Waxter. The relationship between staff and the young women at Waxter is for the most part warm and friendly. The relationship between staff and the young girls is also essential to how the girls grow and move forward with their lives. However, the film ignores their concerns regarding the young girls and regarding the system.
It’s no wonder. Just last week Waxter made headline news in Maryland after having been labeled by one children’s rights advocate as a “house of horrors.” At Waxter, girls like Shanae who have been sentenced for crimes, girls who would make mincemeat of the fillies in “Thirteen,” are placed alongside those who, as one news story put it, “have not been found guilty of anything yet.” Except, perhaps, being born poor and grievously disadvantaged.
MPAA rating: Unrated
Megan, the more unruly of the two is a little older than Shanae. A wild, tough-talking girl of mixed race who has run away from 10 foster homes, she was incarcerated for attacking another foster child with a box cutter. Volatile, articulate and desperately needy, Megan seethes with bitterness at having been abandoned by her mother, Vernessa, a heroin addict and prostitute, who has spent many years in prison.
If the movie suggests that a strong mother-daughter bond is the key to a successful rehabilitation, it is too intelligent to belabor that notion. Once Shanae begins to face the reality of what she did, she is transferred to a group home and begins to flourish. From there she enrolls in high school, where she places fourth in her class, and plans to attend a community college.
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“Miriam has proven to have an incredibly strong voice when it comes to tackling tough, timely and complex stories that often take place in urban settings but resonate far and wide,” Fawcett said.
Miriam Kruishoop (Greencard Warriors) has signed on to write and direct Hood Girls, a narrative feature based on the life stories of the two subjects of Liz Garbus‘ 2003 documentary Girlhood.