Shanae was arrested for murder at the age of 12, after stabbing a friend to death. Megan’s mother was a drug-addled prostitute, and after being placed in, and escaping from, nearly a dozen foster homes, Megan committed a violent crime. These girls are the subjects of Liz Garbus’ documentary, Girlhood. Garbus encountered the girls at the Waxter Juvenile Facility in Baltimore while making a television documentary about the boys incarcerated there.
Garbus, director of the acclaimed prison documentary, The Farm: Angola, USA, examines the disparate fates of these girls and their very different treatment at the hands of the juvenile justice system. While Shanae, the victim of a horrendous violent crime herself as a child, has difficulty coming to grips with the murder she’s committed, she’s clearly an intelligent, charismatic, and, most importantly, motivated girl. The juvenile justice system serves her well, because she’s deeply involved in forging her own path.
Megan, a pretty girl with a devilish gleam in her eye, tries to get by on charm, but she doesn’t have Shanae’s focus. Having been abandoned by her mother, with whom she has a very complicated relationship, Megan is desperate for attention and affection. While Shanae sublimates her anger and hurt and moves on with life, for Megan everything is right on the surface. The system essentially gives up on trying to control her and turns her loose to fend for herself. Girlhood was shown at the 2003 Tribeca Film Festival and at the South by Southwest Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award.