Girl in the Picture will satisfy true crimes fans’ fix for real-life mysteries, but this time the victim’s tragedy and despair are more haunting than most.
Netflix documentary film Girl in the Picture will be released on the streaming service on July 6, 2022.
Skye Borgman’s Netflix documentary Girl in the Picture has many twists and turns. You never know where it will end up other than everyone ends up on the ground pushing up daisies in one way or another. The difference is most of us know who we are and where we came from. When a young woman is brought into a hospital after a hit and run, her much older and blunt husband, Clarence, says her name is Tonya Hughes. Many of her injuries, including scratch marks across her chest, appear to have been beaten by human hands, not a metal car fender. She was only twenty. Tonya had a young child named Michael. Her time on earth was a tragedy. And Tonya was not her real name. It was Sharon Marshall. But wait, that is not true either.
What happens next only further tumbles the viewer down the rabbit hole. Bewildering as it may seem, Clarence was not charged with a crime. In fact, he was not even investigated as they took his word on what happened. After a week of watching over his son, Clarence lost custody, and Michael was put into a foster home with a loving couple. The court-appointed mother swears she saw a man who fit Clarence’s description drive by her house multiple times. But child protective services said she was being paranoid.
Clarence claimed he was grieving the week he lost Michael to child endangerment. But the young boy was always terrified and crying before their court appointment. When his father tried to fight the court for custody, he took a paternity test. When the results came back, Clarence was not the biological father. It did not matter. Clarence grabbed a gun and kidnapped Michael at gunpoint at his school. When Clarence was arrested months later, he was under a different name, but the man sheds identities like a snake in the grass, so it hardly matters. What does is Michael is nowhere to be found.
Based on the investigative non-fiction books A Beautiful Child and the sequel Finding Sharon by Matt Birkbeck, Girl in the Picture is not an easy watch. There are multiple atrocities here, from state-run agencies to negligent parents; you can point the finger at anyone. However, the person behind it all was Franklin Floyd, Clarence’s real name. He is on death row and has a rap sheet of assault, child abuse, and rape, including sexual assaults on children. Yet, the title comes from the film’s poster, where Birkbeck uncovered a photo of Franklin taking a family photo of a very unhappy little girl.
If Michal was not his son, then who was the father? Why the tremendous age gap between Franklin and Sharon? Why do both have multiple identities? And most importantly, what does Girl in the Picture have to do with any of it? Borgman’s film toggles back and forth between timelines so quickly that it can give the viewer whiplash. However, the narrative comes together nicely where most of the facts make sense, even if the result is disturbing and makes your stomach queasy.
Why should you watch Girl in the Picture? Primarily since the subject deals with child endangerment and the things that happen to women that have to do with sexual assault, domestic abuse, and sex trafficking? For one, it is not sensationalized, and thankfully pictures and descriptions of disturbing acts are kept to a minimum. The calamity of the case has enough mystery to keep the viewer interested, despite the hard-to-digest facts. It also highlights issues with macrosystem failures in social welfare agencies. In addition to the continued lack of system-wide malfeasance when crimes against women and children fall along the cracks. I also appreciate how Borgman did not attempt to stretch the story out over a four-part series, even though there seems to be enough material to justify the thought.
Girl in the Picture will satisfy true crime film and series fans alike. However, this time, the victim’s tragedy and despair are more haunting than most.
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