Netflix has just released ‘The Swimmers,’ a movie that retells the true story of sisters Sarah and Yusra Mardini, who fled Syria to find refuge from their home country’s civil war in 2015.
Having spent their childhood training in the pool under their father, Ezzat, the Mardini sisters aspired to swim at the Olympics even after settling in Berlin, Germany. The film captures Yusra’s success in qualifying for the Refugee Olympic Team (ROT) at the 2016 Rio Games.
The biopic begins in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where the Mardini family resided until their home was destroyed in 2012. Ezzat, once a member of the Syrian national swim team, was later arrested and beaten amid the war’s violence and corruption.
The family realized Syria had become uninhabitable when the war encroached on their lives. The parents knew that it would be difficult for all of them to escape together, so they insisted that their daughters would seek asylum.
The sisters traveled to Lebanon, then through Turkey to reach the port of Izmir, where they boarded a dinghy bound for Greece’s Aegean Islands. The dinghy had the capacity for six passengers but was overcrowded with 20 refugees, including the sisters.
During the voyage, the motor malfunctioned, and the boat soon began to sink. The Mardini sisters along with two others jumped into the water and swam the dinghy toward the shore for three hours.
Upon their arrival at the island of Lesbos, smugglers brought the sisters in and helped them begin their trek through Europe. Days later, Sarah and Yusra found their new home in Berlin.
The sisters continued to train in the pool under German coach Sven Spannenkrebs. Yusra went on to qualify for Rio and was chosen by IOC President Thomas Bach to compete at the Games.
Yusra kicked off her Olympic debut with a win in her 100 fly heat finishing 41st overall. She then raced to a 45th-place finish in the 100 free.
At the Tokyo 2020 Games, Yusra swam the 100 fly besting her Rio time by nearly 2.5 seconds.
Welsh-Egyptian director and screenwriter Sally El-Hosaini led the movie project and wrote the script alongside British screenwriter Jack Thorne, who is known for the four-part mini-series Kiri. El-Hosaini’s 2012 debut feature film My Brother the Devil won major prizes at Sundance, Berlin, and London Film Festivals.
Lebanese actors and sisters Manal and Nathalie Issa play the characters of Yusra and Sarah in the movie. El-Hosaini has also included actors Ali Suliman, Ahmed Malek, Kinda Alloush, and James Krishna Floyd, who featured in My Brother the Devil.
Yusra is on a mission to start a foundation to support refugees and use her platform to inspire them to believe in their dreams. Yusra tells her story in her autobiography “Butterfly: From Refugee to Olympian, My Story of Rescue, Hope and Triumph,” which was published in 2018.