The Speed Sisters are the first ever all-woman racing team in the Middle East – and now a documentary charting their success (backed by Madonna) is hitting the big screen
When Marah Zahalka was 10, she taught herself to drive. Growing up in the West Bank city of Jenin, she sat in the back of her mum’s car, watching her technique and committing it to memory. Before taking the next natural step, and, well, taking the car for herself.
“I have been crazy about cars since I was a kid,” the now 21 year old explains. “I love how they look, how they sound and the freedom I feel when I drive fast. I stole my parents’ car when I was 11, with the help of the kids from my neighbourhood. I couldn’t wait until I was 17 and could get my driver’s license.”
Fast forward ten years, and Marah is now the youngest member of the Middle East’s all-female race car driving team. Dubbed the ‘Speed Sisters’, and consisting of five women, Noor Daoud, Marah Zahalka, Betty Saadeh, Maysoon Jayyusi and Mona Enab, they’ve sped their way into unprecedented territory: beating male drivers from around the world, collecting trophies and overtaking the gender stereotypes that pervade traditional Middle Eastern society.
“A car doesn’t know if you are a woman or a man!” Betty says. “I don’t think we need to be tomboys just because we like cars. We need to be ourselves.”
And their rise to supercar stardom is such a big deal that it’s become the subject of a new, eponymous documentary, which hits UK cinema screens for the first time next week.
Directed by Amber Fares, the documentary has been in the works for over five years – but suffered huge delays due to a lack of funding and mobility – not to mention being shot at by Israeli soldiers. But after Madonna spotted the trailer online in 2013, and donated $10,000 to help finance its release, production finally kicked off.
“I heard about the races and saw that there were some women racing,” recalls Amber. “I think, for me, like anyone else, 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. It’s one of those stories that is so shocking because it is so unusual.”
Watch Speed Sisters make its European Premiere at Sheffield Documentary Festival on June 8th / 9th