By Frannie Ucciferri,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Spirited docu follows Middle Eastern female racing team.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Strong messages of pursuing your passion despite obstacles and that women have a place in traditionally male-dominated sports and arenas. Promotes encouraging women to support one another and break down gender barriers. Perseverance and persisting even when being treated unjustly is a major theme.
Positive Role Models
The racers are a resilient, diverse group of young Palestinian women who are dedicated to succeeding in the male-dominated sport they love. They persist even when it's inconvenient -- or dangerous -- for them to practice. Maysoon is a caring, supportive coach who goes to great lengths to advocate for her team. Marah's father makes significant sacrifices to support his daughter, even when conservative older relatives say they don't approve of the girls racing.
Violence & Scariness
The racers live in the highly militarized West Bank region, so soldiers are seen frequently with guns. Maysoon discusses being shot in the shoulder and smelling tear gas on the way to school as a child. Explosions and skirmishes occur at a military checkpoint. Marah and her father discuss air strikes. One of the young women is shot at and hit by a tear gas cannister by Israeli soldiers. She's visibly upset and later shows others a large, red bruise on her lower back.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
One of the women talks about agents and men wanting to talk to her because she's attractive. Women discuss marriage and wanting to start families. Several photos of one of the women and her fiance.
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Infrequent swearing includes "crap" and "ass" spoken in English and "bastard" and "idiot" in subtitles. Noor refers to her car as a "piece of... I don't know."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Two instances of adults using a hookah.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Speed Sisters is a documentary about the first all-female car racing team in the Middle East. It follows the four racers and their coach as they compete in races while trying to navigate life in occupied Palestine. The dangers of living in such a highly militarized zone are clear: Scenes show armed soldiers and explosions at military checkpoints, and there are mentions of air strikes and the use of tear gas (one woman says that the smell of tear gas reminds her of walking to school as a child). In one intense scene, a racer is shot at and hit by a tear gas cannister. She becomes visibly upset and sustains a serious bruise. Most of the movie is in Arabic with English subtitles, although a few of the young women speak English. Swearing is infrequent, but "crap" and "ass" are said in English, while "bastard" and other insults show up in the subtitles. The women are excellent examples of the power of persevering and persisting even when being treated unjustly.
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What's the Story?
In open-air markets and air strips along the West Bank, the SPEED SISTERS -- the first all-female street-car racing team in the Middle East -- are revving to compete. This documentary follows four Palestinian women and their supportive coach as they pursue their passion for racing despite high odds and many obstacles. Because as much as the women say that they're there to compete with the men, they must also compete with each other, balancing being teammates with being competitors. At the heart of the battle are Betty and Marah. One comes from a wealthy line of successful racers and has a love of nail art. The other is a talented up-and-comer whose refugee family had to choose between buying a new car for her to race or purchasing land for a home of their own (they chose the car). The team must also navigate life off the racetrack, dealing with everyday life in the highly militarized areas of occupied Palestine. Even finding an open area to practice in can be a dangerous challenge for the young women. Still, they persist, ignoring violence and naysayers to determine which of them will earn the title of female racing champion.
Is It Any Good?
Director Amber Fares' spirited documentary is about both a vibrant, diverse group of women with a passion for racing and the stark realities of Palestinian life on the West Bank. The five women all seem to channel their struggles -- the instability of occupation, the disappointment of conservative relatives, the pressure to start families, the ongoing political turmoil over the West Bank, balancing modern life with traditional Islam -- into street racing. Interestingly, they don't appear to face much pushback from male racers, who (at least according to the film) seemed to accept them fairly quickly as legitimate competitors. But they do face some opposition from the men in charge of the racing federation, as well as from online haters. Still, they take it all in stride, not allowing anything to hold them back.
That said, it can be hard to tell whether the tension between Marah and Betty is being played up for cinematic drama -- or played down to focus on team unity. Also, for a documentary about women who love speed, the film can get a bit slow at times. There are plenty of long, quiet moments in Speed Sisters that are meant to show what life is like for the women when they're not racing -- for example waiting in endless lines of cars at military checkpoints. The combination of the pacing and the subtitles might be too slow for younger viewers, but the intense racing scenes and great female role models more than make up for it. It's easy to root for these women and their relentless passion.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about how we can use media to explore other cultures and learn what life is like in other places. What did Speed Sisters teach you about Palestine? How could you find out more?
In what ways are the racers treated differently by their families -- and the racing federation -- because of their gender? Do you think it's easier for them to be on an all-female team? Why or why not?
How do the racers in Speed Sisters demonstrate perseverance? Why is this an important character strength? Do you consider them role models? Why or why not?
Which affected you more -- seeing the movie's moments of violence/tension or listening to the women talk about the violence they experience as part of their everyday life? Why?
- In theaters: January 27, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: February 21, 2017
- Director: Amber Fares
- Studio: Dogwoof Global Sales
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Cars and Trucks, Great Girl Role Models
- Character Strengths: Perseverance
- Run time: 78 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: July 26, 2022
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