October 2003

Reviewed by Niija Kuykendall
Distributor: Moxie Firecracker Films
Directed by: Liz Garbus
Producers: Liz Garbus, Rory Kennedy, Amy Goodman
Editor Mary Manhardt
Cinematographer: Tony Hardmon
Music: Theodore Shapiro



Girlhood is the poignant coming-of-age story of two young girls going through the juvenile justice system of Maryland for violent crimes. The documentary explores the complexities of childhood, or the lack thereof, juvenile incarceration and mother/daughter relationships in today’s America. Megan ran away from ten foster homes and attacked another child with a box cutter before ending up in Waxter Juvenile Facility while Shanae was gang-raped by five boys at age 10, then stabbed another young girl to death at age 11. The documentary follows the girls on a 3-year journey of acceptance and redemption as the girls struggle to find their paths and come to terms with their selves.

What strikes the most is Megan’s and Shanae’s relationships with their mothers. For Megan, whose mother is in and out of jail for drugs and prostitution, it seems that her tenuous bond with her mother is all she can see and all she can focus on. Her issues and almost every word that comes from her mouth seem to be a scream for contact and a relationship with a mother who can barely take care of herself. Although Shanae comes from a supportive and solid family, she is also lost. Her situation makes us examine just how much a mother can do to help her little girl, who is an old, lost soul in a child’s body. She desperately needs her mother and even states as much but how overwhelmed Shanae’s mother must be by her love for a daughter who has been gang-raped and commits murder all in the course of one year. The film asserts that Megan’s and Shanae’s girlhoods are indicative of the childhoods of this new day in the U.S. and it seems to ask at every turn, ‘How did it come to this?’. How have we allowed our children to grow up so fast and suffer so much in the process?

The film documents the beginning of the girls’ path to coming to terms with and finding themselves. Girlhood is an amazing, sobering but must-see look at the way many young people are now coming-of-age and poses the question of how this country can work to give them back the childhoods they deserve.