Tribeca ’03: Girlhood (review)

part of my Directed by Women series

How often must we hear the same story over and over again before someone in a position to do something about it starts to listen? Oscar-nominated documentarian Liz Garbus relates a familiar tale — of horrible sexual abuse and parental neglect and indifference from the justice system — with a shocking, powerful intimacy that’s a desperate cry to be heard from the too many throwaway children of our society.

Shanae murdered a friend at age 11; Megan attacked another girl with a box cutter; both were the objects of more violence and adult disdain in the years leading up to their crimes than anyone should have to endure in a lifetime. Garbus met them at Maryland’s Waxter Juvenile Facility, where they were incarcerated, and followed them through half-hearted rehabilitation measures — led by clueless adults who appeared to have little idea they were dishing out pointless platitudes and blatant racism and classism — and into their post-release periods.

The most surprising — and encouraging — thing about these girls is how smart, how ambitious, and how downright likable they are. The most heartrending thing is that they are not the lost children society would like to see them as… but they will become lost without the love and attention and guidance they so desperately, so obviously crave.

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