“Girl Hood”

“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.

The film is misleading from the beginning when the opening title card introduces the audience to the fact that the number of crimes committed by young women has risen. One assumes that this is a documentary film exploring possible reasons for this statistic. However, this is never again mentioned in the film or why it is significant in relation to Shanae and Megan’s story. Additionally, once the girls are out in the real world, their lives change drastically. Megan’s relationship with her mother worsens and her relationship with her foster mother is nonexistent. Shanae returns home to a supportive mother and father and is able to come to terms with the responsibility of her actions. She even admits feeling remorse for having taken someone’s life, unlike before when she said her victim was the lucky one. Additionally, Shanae is able to go back to school and even attend prom. Megan’s life after juvenile detention against the backdrop of Shanae’s life creates a comparison between the two girls and their circumstances. It places great significance on the relationship between mothers and daughters/parental figures as the driving force for the behavior or misbehavior of youth. Although, to some extent the relationship between children and parents is important, there are other factors that play into the reason Megan is unsuccessful outside the detention center. One very important factor is the juvenile system responsible for failing Megan. The film fails to look into the system and why it has failed girls like Megan who do not have a supporting family to welcome them back into society. The film simply shows the audience the tangible, present and convenient reasons for Megan’s unsuccessful re-integration back to society, her relationship with her mother. As a result this creates a polarization between Megan and Shanae’s lives. The film has many positive attributes, such as it is raw and informative; however, it lacks depth when it comes to looking deeper into the juvenile system, the statistics in opening title card and the relevance of this statistic to Shanae and Megan. Nevertheless, it is an import

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