REVIEW by Rebecca M. Alvin
When one thinks of auto racing, the role of women is not often highlighted. Around the world, including here in the United States, it is rare to see women race car drivers. There’s Danica Patrick who won the Indy Japan 300 in 2008 and Shirley Muldowney, a legendary American drag racer. In the high-end Formula One racing world there ishave only been a paltry five women drivers in its entire 75-year history. By and large, women have been largely excluded from this sport that is so contingent on sponsorships and therefore money. So it’s striking to see race car drivers of any gender in one of the most politically and economically disadvantaged places in the world, Palestine. Add to that its Muslim majority and women competing in this sport seems all the more surprising. But in Amber Fares’ documentary Speed Sisters, which came out in 2015, we meet a whole team of women race car drivers whose families support them wholeheartedly in many cases.
The film takes a fairly conventional documentary approach, with interviews interspersed with footage of the races and documentation of day-to-day life. It’s clear that the film is not only about women in the racing world, but also about being Palestinian and the obstacles that places before you in addition to gender discrimination. We meet Mona, Marah, Betty, Noor, and their team captain Maysoon. Each one grapples with her femininity in relation to her passion for what is deemed (for some reason that escapes logic) a masculine endeavor. While, as I said, their families are quite supportive, there are members, such as Marah’s grandfather, who disapprove—in some cases on the basis of gender expectations, but just as often it is because there is a sense that throwing your efforts into car racing is a waste of time and energy when the cause of Palestinian liberation is so dire.
Much of the fun of the film is watching (and hearing) the practice sessions, made all the more interesting by the cobbled-together cars they are working with, the lack of space for an actual track in the Israeli-occupied territory, and the camaraderie and support the women have, not only from each other but also from male collaborators who help configure the cars, etc. The Palestinian Federation, which is the authority for the racing world there, is less supportive, preferring more attractive women over others, which naturally brings up female competition with one another, an old trick in the patriarchal playbook.
Speed Sisters confronts pressing problems in Palestine within the milieu of female race car drivers, giving unique access and an important balance between the issues of these particular women and those of the larger geopolitical context where they live. It’s a fascinating film, and it’s exciting that the director is expected to attend at least one of the screenings so we can learn more about this world. Certainly, we will all want to know where these remarkable women are now.
Speed Sisters is showing as part of the Women’s Week Film Festival at Waters Edge Cinema, Whalers Wharf Mall, 237 Commercial St., 2nd Fl., Provincetown, on Tuesday, October 11 at 1 p.m. Filmmaker Amber Fares is expected to attend. For tickets and information, visit provincetownfilm.org.