In a world dominated by men, it’s powerful to see young people lift like a girl.
Directed by Mayye Zayed, the new documentary Lift Like a Girl follows a female weightlifting community in Egypt. As one of the nation’s most renown trainers, Captain Ramadan spends his days training young women on the streets of Alexandria. One of his prize students is Zebiba, a 14-year-old girl with the potential to make the Olympic team. Over the course of four years, Zebiba is shaped by her relationship with the Captain as he walks with her through multiple victories and defeats.
There’s a fire within Lift Like a Girl that makes it riveting to watch. As we peer into lives of these young girls, we do not see young people with limitations of gender or social status. We see potential titleholders with an eye on the Olympics. Without glossing over their flaws, Zayed depicts these youth as untapped potential who are often ignored. Led by Captain Ramadan, these ‘Champions of the Street’ work, lift and fight to win, regardless of the labels placed on them by a culture that may see them as lesser.
By following Zebiba over her four years of training, we not only see a young girl grow and mature. We also witness the positive effects of the Captain’s role in her life. As a result, although Zebiba may be the film’s primary subject, much of its soul belongs to Captain Ramadan. Having coached the nation’s most famous weightlifters, the Captain is relentless in his pursuit of success. Each day, he challenges his students to do better and focus on their goal. While the way he speaks to the youth isn’t always positive (especially after a loss), he always remains determined to see them succeed. To many of these girls, the Captain has become their father figure. He offers love, challenges them to do better and sees them as more than the culture.
But this is where Captain Ramadan becomes even more important.
In a male-dominant culture, the Captain also has exceptional views regarding gender equality. For the Captain, gender is no restriction from greatness. Fighting for his girls with a progressive voice, he refuses to let them view themselves as any less than their male counterparts. What’s more, he even argues with passersby who verbally cut down his students simply because of they are girls. Whereas many view gender or social status as a barrier, all that matters to the Captain is whether or not his students can achieve greatness and he empowers them to do so.
In this way, there’s a beauty within Lift that beats with a heart of justice. For the Captain, the only barrier to winning comes from our own perceptions and he passes that wisdom on to his students, no matter who they are or where they come from. With an eye focused on their training, Zayed highlights the emotional journey that these young women take as they fight through various wins and losses. However, at the same time, it also highlights the fact that lifting someone up is ultimately even more powerful than lifting the weights themselves.
Lift Like a Girl is available in select theatres across Canada now and will be available on VOD as part of the Impact Series on July 20th, 2021.