In this fast-paced documentary, director Amber Fares gets up close and personal with the members of the Speed Sisters, the first all female car racing team in the Arab world, as they struggle with their identities as women, Muslims, athletes, and Palestinians. (EML: 3/5)
Review by FF2 Associate Eliana M. Levenson
Meet the Speed Sisters, the first women’s only team in Middle Eastern car racing. The women, who race as individuals but train as a group, all come from varying backgrounds within the Palestinian landscape and come together for their love of racing. As they race throughout the year, they are in direct competition with each other as only the two top female racers are given spots to represent Palestine at the race in Jordan.
Marah has always loved racing, even stealing her mother’s car as a kid to drive around neighborhood kids. Raised in a supportive, but religious family, Marah is the reigning champion and is consistently a top competitor. Despite her talents, Marah is incredibly type-A and, when Betty beats her despite a rule violation, Marah decides to sit out the next race, disqualifying her from competing in Jordan.
Betty, Marah’s main competition, is Brazilian born and Palestinian raised, straddling both a Latina and Palestinian identity. Unlike the other women, Betty sees herself not just as a car racer but as a brand. She isn’t interested in hiding her femininity, despite her place in a “man’s” sport and works hard on her public image. However, her behavior and self-confidence can cause her to be at odds with other women and often get her into trouble.
Noor is an athlete through and through, trying everything until she landed on racing as her main passion. Though she often doesn’t place as well in competition, her fierce focus and desire to improve makes her someone to watch for the future.
Mona seems the least dedicated of the group, especially when she admits that if her fiance made her choose between racing and him, she would chose him. Still, Mona is an aggressive competitor and a dedicated member of the team, supporting the other women and working with them to push the boundaries of what women can do.
Lastly, there is Maysoon the team captain and the driving force behind the Speed Sisters. Intelligent and well-spoken, Maysoon is dedicated to keeping the women together as a team and feels it is important for them to continue to change how people view women in the Arab World. Still, Maysoon is a pragmatist, and while she resists their situation when she can, she is also happy to pick her battles which some of the women don’t agree with.
Structured around their race schedule, Speed Sisters takes the audience on a journey through the ups and downs of each of the women’s lives, both in and out of racing. Each of the women struggles against the traditionalism of the Arab culture and the expectations set upon them as women in a male-dominated society. While most people seem to be accepting of the women racing, the women still find themselves trying to balance their female identity with their “male” occupation.
One of the most interesting aspects of the documentary is the difference in what racing looks like. Unlike Nascar, which boasts souped up, branded, exclusive and expensive vehicles, the women are responsible for providing their own vehicle, often piecing them together from things they find in junkyards. Furthermore, rather than an specific racing track, the races take place on regular streets, with simple cones added for maneuvers. The lack of glamour adds a grittiness to the sport, however, and enhances the overall understanding of the women’s experience in Palestine.
Heartbreaking and raw at times, Speed Sisters does not shy away from addressing the tense political climate that these women face living in the West Bank. Addressing the women’s experiences and concerns with military occupation at times is uncomfortable, especially as they often represent a narrow and one-sided view of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. While their experiences are important and should not be negated, there are moments when the documentary seems to steer toward an anti-Israel agenda by completely disregarding the other half of the equation. This makes the film difficult to stomach at times, and has the Israeli supporter in the audience wanting to yell at the screen the perspective of the other side. Still, Speed Sisters does a good job of balancing the politics with the racing, and there is definite value in hearing, however biased, a differing opinion on the occupation that may not always be given a voice.
Overall, Speed Sisters provides an exclusive look at a world that is often left in the dark. While the stories are interesting, the narrative style feels stale and doesn’t keep the audience as engaged as the concept would suggest. Though the political, personal, and athletic are well-balanced, there is a lack of depth to all of the narratives, leaving the audience with only a surface understanding of all three aspects.
© Eliana M. Levenson FF2 Media (2/9/16)
Top Photo: Poster for the documentary, Speed Sisters, directed by Amber Fares.
Middle Photo: Maysoon in the center, sporting her business blazer, with her team surrounding her, decked out in racing gear.
Bottom Photo: The Speed Sisters in their racing gear showing solidarity and strength as the only all female team in Middle Eastern car racing.
Photo Credits: First Run Features
Q: Does Speed Sisters pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
Speed Sisters is the epitome of a girl power movie! In fact, it’s rare for men to even speak at all, except for a few beats of their fathers. The film focuses on the relationships between the women and the women’s relationships to their situation in Palestine, which means that they are almost always speaking to each other and not usually about men.
In fact, one of the most intense scenes comes when Maysoon, Noor, Mona and Betty are discussing Marah’s choice not to race in one of the Jordan qualifying rounds. This scene is a great example of female dynamics, especially in a competitive field that has almost nothing to do with men, since they are technically only competing against one another.