Speed Sisters is the first all-women race team in the Middle East. By speeding their way into the male-dominated Palestinian street car-racing scene, they are challenging social barriers and preconceptions based on gender. Film director Amber Fares followed the girls for a number of years and has just released a documentary, Speed Sisters, which is currently opening at film festivals across the globe. Your Middle East caught up with Fares for a quick chat.
How did you come up with the idea?
I didn’t actually come up with the idea, I met them. I heard about these girls when I was doing photography for the UN in Ramallah, and my driver at the time, who himself was a racer, told me about these incredible girls and that caught my interest. It was a twist of faith that brought me there in the first place, and I just had to tell their story to the world.
What drove you personally to cover this story?
There was something about the conflict and excitement embedded within sports that interested me, and sports is such a great equalizer that I think everyone can relate to. Despite the limitation of movement and limitation of speed in Palestine, these girls allowed themselves to be competitive, to be ambitious and to be bold. But I also wanted to tell a story about a place that in traditional media is portrayed in a different way. It is important to not only see one narrative, but to give credence to the multiple voices, as one single story cannot capsulate what life is in Palestine. By creating alternative narratives and showing other points of view it is possible to give life to alternative realities and to show the other side of the lives of these people. By doing this we can create a paradise of difference.
What do you mean by paradise?
The idea of a paradise is based on a quote from a Nigerian poet and novelist. Her name is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and in 2009 she held a Ted Talk with the headline "the danger of a single story". She said that if you show a people as one thing, as only one thing over and over again, that is what they will become.
There are multiple stories in one place, and if we are able to bring all those stories in we can create a paradise for ourselves where every story matters equally. For this reason I did not want to make a film where the politics overshadowed everything. Of course I had to layer the politics in, but the main objective was to showcase these girls and make a tribute to the many stories within Palestine.
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What surprised you the most during this project?
I can't really say that I experienced any massive surprises during the filming, as I had been living in Palestine for a while at that time. But what struck me the most was how much these girls were like myself in a way. I have been that underdog, that caddie to life not knowing for sure if what I was doing was the right thing for me, thinking that I am getting older, do I need to get married and so on. There are fundamental things in their lives that have nothing to do with politics, or being Arab or not being Arab that I think every woman can relate to on some level.
It was kind of a nice surprise that a lot of the men in their orbit were so supportive, it wasn't an issue at all that these girls were racing. Even the head of the Palestinian racing federation created a space for them to race, and there were no public objection towards forbidding these girls from racing. These people are uniting over this passion for cars, and it is actually incredibly inclusive. The only thing that is exclusive is the fact that the sport itself costs quite a substantial amount of money, but that is a universal hindrance.
Why do you think that stories like this one are important to tell?
It is always the same problem when we look at the Middle East, we sort of brush it with one broad stroke. We view it as a very homogeneous culture, which it is not. In a place like Palestine where you have intifadas and uprisings you have women who have been at the forefront of political struggle, who have always been very involved in civil movements and very active in civil society until this day, they are doctors, professors, women that are very high profiled. So it is really not that big of a stretch when it comes to these women in the film racing cars even though it is far from the social norm. This falls back on the premise that no single story can capture the culture of an entire people.
How do you view the situation for women in Palestine? And through what platforms are younger women confronting gender barriers?
I don't know if I really thought of it in those intellectual terms, of course there is a lot that needs to be done in Palestine, and all around the world in terms of equality and gender issues. But Palestine is not separated from the struggles of women taking place all over the world, and I didn't want to single it out as the place where women are being oppressed or held back. In terms of a platform for women in playing sports, these women make the same struggles of equality and gender more universal, everyone should be able to race and we should of course use sports as a topic to talk about gender issues.
All photos credited to Amber Fares/Speed Sisters