Watching “Speed Sisters” is an exhilarating experience and made me regret selling my Camaro. The five Palestinian women profiled form the first all-women racing team to compete on the Palestine Motor Sports Circuit. Regarded initially as gatecrashers, their skill and competitiveness aid the women in being accepted by the male drivers and male spectators at the track.
There is no voice-over narration in “Speed Sisters”; filmmaker Amber Fares allows the women to speak directly to the viewer. Marah Zahalka, who stole her parents’ car for a joyride at the age of eleven, is the team’s best driver. Her career is hampered, however, by fellow driver Betty Saadeh. Mexican-born and with a foot in both the Latin and Arab worlds, Saadeh garners the most media attention and preferential treatment from the race authorities. Saadeh, who wears her hair straight and blond, is the team’s most “feminine” personality and the bias towards her seems based solely on the fact that she looks the “least Arab” of the drivers.
Zahalka does have an advantage in the support she receives from her family. Her father Khaled, a dental technician, works eighteen-hour days in order to earn the money to buy Marah a new car. The drivers do receive some backlash, however. When Noor Dauod does a television interview, the comments posted on the internet include statements like, “This is a sign the world is coming to an end.” What “Speed Sisters” illustrates, though, is that Arab culture contains a wide range of opinions and Palestinian women have ambitions similar to other women throughout the world.
The struggle between Palestinians and Israelis is, of course, present in the film. Maysoon, the team captain, is caught in a clash between Israeli soldiers and stone-throwing protestors while on-camera. As she is driving away from the scene, she comments, “The smell of tear gas reminds me of my childhood.” The lack of space also affects the women’s training. Airstrips and idle vegetable markets are used to set up tracks on race days.
Mona Ali, the least competitive of the drivers, uses racing as an escape from the conflict. She races just for the fun and the release it offers her. “Speed Sisters” is far from depressing due to the joy these women experience behind the wheel. They face some pressure to conform but choose to follow their own life paths. Filmmaker Fares has chosen a wholly original subject for her first full-length documentary and challenges the stereotypical view of Muslim women.
“Speed Sisters” was released in the US in 2017. The film is unrated, but suitable for all audiences. Available on DVD and streaming on iTunes, I watched “Speed Sisters” at my own expense.