The documentary Maiden captures the story of yacht skipper Tracey Edwards and her female crew that dared to face a storm of sexism and make the world’s ocean their stage.
This inspirational film, produced by New Black Films and available on Netflix, transports viewers to 1989 using original footage taken on board the yacht “Maiden” and media coverage of the Whitbread Round the World Race.
Many of the challenges for these sportswomen coupled with gender equality discussions, subtly invite the viewer to question whether much has really changed since the 80s.
The 2018 documentary directed by Alex Holmes begins with a deep dive into Tracey Edwards’ early childhood, using home movies of her family overlaid with Edwards’ direct and reflective commentary. At age 10, following her father’s sudden death, Edwards’ idyllic childhood crashes around her.
Her mother, a former rally car driver, dancer and go-kart racer, under pressure from the industry is forced to sell the family’s hi-fi business. This moment in Edwards’ life exposes her to the harsh realities for women who are working in what was considered a male-dominated industry.
Holmes continues this foreshadowing, exploring Edwards’ anger fuelled teenage years, exacerbated by her abusive stepfather, and her experience running away to Greece working on charter boats.
These early experiences of frustration and loneliness, alongside her passion for freedom, adventure and belonging, create a powerful foundation as the documentary unravels Edwards’ life and imperfect personality.
The film quickly gains momentum after Tracey secures a position as a cook onboard one of the British racing yachts. She describes begging the skippers at the dock to take her on and facing rejection, they didn’t want a female on board because “girls are for screwing when you get into port.”
Out of 230 crew members, Edwards became one of four women in the race. Media footage of Edwards’ discussing her responsibilities harshly juxtaposes the race montage of men working manual winches, yachts crashing through waves and interviews with fired-up commentators and skippers, all to an 80’s electronic dance soundtrack.
Edwards’ reflections have a melancholy edge, such as describing the time her male crewmates wrote “for sale, one case of beer,” on the back of her underwear. However, her determination shines in her memories of being out in the open water and her desire to ‘fit in’ with the chauvinistic sailing fraternity around her.
After the race, Edwards was determined to gather an all-female crew. Even in this plight, she was plagued by the sexist attitudes of the sport with no sponsorship support. In an ode to the huge risks many women must take to participate in male-dominated industries and sports, Edwards remortgages her house. Her future is on the line.
The film then takes her story up a notch, introducing interviews with Edwards’ crew as they race around the world over nine months.
Conditions on board the yacht reflect the endurance and perseverance of these sportsmen and women, working in four-hour shifts in temperatures down to -20 degrees, strapped to the boat in fear of being thrown overboard, sailing between icebergs in fog with skin flaking off their faces. Not all competitors make it to port alive.
The extreme conditions of the open-water show all teams no mercy, and no partiality to gender. Yet onshore, the “Maiden” crew are doubted by critics and the media based on their sex, a narrative that undermines the success and tenacity of many pioneering women reported on today.
Perpetuating the belief that the “Maiden” would not finish the first leg, that any victory was down to luck, Bob Fisher from the Guardian described the “Maiden” as a “tin full of tarts.” And while the journalists reflect on how their views have changed since then, questions prying into women’s relationships and sexuality and digging for a story about female “squabbling” are still evident in contemporary discourse.
“The things that used to get talked about, the expectation of how we’d be, that we’d be a bunch of bitches or we’d be, you know, pulling each other’s hair out and arguing all the time, just wasn’t a true reflection at all.
“Actually, we were a great team,” says Jane Goodes, the childhood friend of Edwards and the Maiden’s cook.
With disinterest in the crew’s skills, expectations for the Maiden to fail, and an eagerness to paint the team as a “sideshow” from the main race, the media’s pressure grows throughout the documentary.
Holmes also includes a controversial moment for the Maiden crew, especially as their story was shaping them into feminist trailblazers.
“Gripped by fear” of the media fallout if they failed, the crew agrees to wear their swimsuits as they cross the finish line on one of the legs.
This picture became the most syndicated sports photograph of the year. A distinct contrast to the hundreds of boats sailing beside the Maiden as they cross the final finish line to the cheers of thousands, arguably, the most inspiring image from the documentary.
While the film could focus entirely on Edwards’ adventurous and courageous spirit, Holmes incorporates an important underlying message throughout the documentary.
Tracey Edwards was not a perfect skipper, leader or crewmate. Under the pressure to fulfill her dream, she was plagued by imposter syndrome, and at times was described by her crew as incredibly difficult to work with.
In this way, the documentary breaks waves itself through a realistic exploration of the dark underbelly of a tenacious leader, determined to achieve their dream. Women, in particular, carry a fear that exposing imperfections will override their accomplishments.
The documentary “Maiden,” showcases a sophisticated sense of reflecting on the past and encourages the audience to respect the entirety of Edward’s character, including unvarnished accounts about her.
Through the story of Tracey Edwards making history racing around the world with the “Maiden” crew, Holmes’ film offers viewers the chance to consider the standards for women today.
In exploring the life of a woman who made history, the film critiques the way women are represented and celebrates the feminists who are taking on the world.
Jeni Mundy, one of the Maiden crew encapsulates the crews’ courage, vision and attitude.
“If you believe in everything people tell you you can’t do, what would humankind have achieved?”