“I feel the need … the need for speed!” Tom Cruise’s Maverick may have said it first, but a group of Palestinian women are bringing it back in a big way. The “Speed Sisters” are the first team of women racecar drivers in the Middle East, and the eponymously named documentary brings their inspiring story to the Western masses.
Filmmaker Amber Fares moved from Canada to the Middle East in the aftermath of 9/11 to connect with her Lebanese heritage, where she first encountered the Speed Sisters. “For me … the idea of there being speed tests in the West Bank was kind of a cool thing anyway and then there was the fact that there were women competing against men—and that sort of blew me away,” Fares said in an interview with The National. The experience prompted her to make a documentary on the feminist speedsters, but she makes it clear that it’s more than just a film about women making it in a man’s world. “The beauty of the film is you identify with the characters, and then you pull back and think about where they live.”
For a largely conservative society, most people have surprisingly been extremely supportive of the women, who are a mix of Christians and Muslims. Khaled Qaddoura, head of the Palestinian Motorsports Federation, says that he’s “proud to see [our] young women today taking an interest in racecar driving.” And as one team member told Al Jazeera, "It's crazy, the love we get in Palestine. It's a blessing!" Of course, not everyone is happy about it. Some men call it “haram,” meaning forbidden, and say they are uncomfortable having women at the racetrack. But the team tries not to let it get to them and just lets their “racing do the talking.”
And talk it does—today the Speed Sisters often place in the top 10 of their respective categories. Driver Betty Saadeh says that, “It means a lot to have come this far, to break down barriers like this, to provide a different identity to Palestinian women than what gets portrayed in the media.” Teammate Mona Ennab adds, “When I drive I feel free from pressure of life, from the political situation, from everything. That’s what this is about for every one of us drivers.”
The film premiered late last year at the Ajyal Youth Film Festival in Doha, Qatar, and internationally at Toronto’s “Hot Docs” festival last month. Check out this powerful film’s website for more information and upcoming screening dates.