This article appears in our 2017 Summer issue, Invisibility. Subscribe today!
Glass ceilings come in various shapes and sizes, and there’s one in the Middle East that may not immediately come to mind. New documentary Speed Sisters looks at an all-woman racing team, the first of its kind in Palestine, and their struggle to break into the male-dominated racing world as they compete against other drivers and each other.
What makes Speed Sisters so compelling is the way it weaves Palestinian life with the team’s everyday stories. For instance, in the middle of the film, the racers contemplate whether they would have to give up driving once they get married. “What if [your fiancé] tells you he doesn’t want you to race?” the team’s captain, Maysoon, asks the engaged racer Mona. Mona responds, “Put yourself in my shoes. If you had to choose between him and racing, I don’t think you would choose racing.” Instead of arguing against the point, Maysoon turns inward, pondering Mona’s question. Palestinian gender roles and how they impact the team are a recurring theme throughout the film.
Of course, the military occupation also appears, and Speed Sisters shows how it impacts each of the team members. In one moment early in the film, Maysoon is held up at an Israeli military checkpoint, and the scene quickly grows violent. As tear gas floods the area, she says the smell reminds her of her childhood during the First Intifada in the late ’80s and early ’90s. This scene foreshadows a much more disturbing event that occurs later, in which racer Betty is hit with a rubber bullet. She’s quickly taken to the emergency room, and the Speed Sisters consider putting pressure on the government for a dedicated training area that would protect them from the soldiers. Speed Sisters tackles the occupation in a way that humanizes the women and portrays the occupation’s lasting effects.
At times, some members of the team are overshadowed—Betty, for instance, gets time in the spotlight due to her international recognition, and Marah’s story as an ambitious racer from a hardworking family weaves in and out of the entire movie. Mona’s engagement tends to fade into the background, and it’s easy to lose track of Maysoon as she goes from team captain to leaving Palestine once she’s engaged. But even when Speed Sisters struggles to tell each woman’s individual story, the tale behind the racing team drives the film forward, weaving together the lives and pains of a group of women breaking into a male-dominated world. Between the Speed Sisters’ lives, the existential crisis brought on by the occupation, and a climactic ending in which Betty and Marah go head-to-head to determine who is the fastest woman racing in the Arab world, Speed Sisters is an informative and thrilling delight throughout.