Netflix’s Nyad is a biopic that tells the remarkable story of Diana Nyad, a long-distance swimmer who achieved her lifelong dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage at the age of 64. The film, directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, the Oscar-winning duo behind Free Solo, stars Annette Bening as Nyad and Jodie Foster as her friend and coach Bonnie Stoll. However, the film has also sparked controversy and criticism from some of Nyad’s colleagues and experts, who question the legitimacy of her swim and the accuracy of her account.
In this article, we will explore the true story behind Nyad’s epic swim, the controversy surrounding the film, and Nyad’s life and career.
The True Story of Diana Nyad’s Epic Swim
Nyad had been fascinated by the Cuba-to-Florida journey since she was a teenager, and attempted it for the first time in 1978, when she was 28 years old. However, she failed to complete the swim due to strong currents, storms, and jellyfish stings. She gave up swimming for decades and pursued a career as a sports journalist and broadcaster. In 2009, after turning 60, she decided to try again, motivated by a desire to prove herself and inspire others. She made four more attempts between 2010 and 2012, but each time she faced various challenges, such as asthma, dehydration, hypothermia, and severe jellyfish stings that nearly killed her. She also faced criticism from some of her peers, who accused her of using unfair advantages, such as a protective suit, a mask, and a team of shark divers.
On August 31, 2013, Nyad embarked on her fifth and final attempt, accompanied by a 35-member support crew, including Stoll, who had been her loyal friend and coach for years. After swimming for 52 hours and 54 minutes, covering a distance of 110 miles, she reached the shore of Key West, Florida, on September 2, 2013. She became the first person to swim across the Florida Straits without a shark cage, and the oldest person to complete any open-water swim over 100 miles. She was greeted by thousands of cheering fans and media, and delivered a message of hope and perseverance: “Never, ever give up. You’re never too old to chase your dreams.”
Nyad’s swim was widely celebrated as a historic and heroic feat, and she received praise and recognition from celebrities, politicians, and the public. She also wrote a memoir, Find a Way, and gave a TED talk about her experience. However, not everyone was convinced by her achievement. Some of her fellow swimmers and observers raised doubts and questions about the validity and veracity of her swim, and accused her of violating the rules and ethics of marathon swimming.
The Controversy Surrounding the Film on Nyad
One of the main sources of controversy surrounding Nyad’s swim was the speed and distance data that she and her team provided. According to the data, Nyad swam faster and farther than expected, especially during a seven-hour stretch when she averaged 3.97 miles per hour, more than double her usual pace. Some experts suggested that Nyad might have benefited from the currents, or that she might have drafted behind her escort boat, or even that she might have gotten out of the water and rested on the boat. Nyad and her team denied these allegations, and claimed that they followed the rules and standards of the sport. They also released a report and a GPS track to support their claims, and invited independent reviewers to examine the data.
However, the report and the data were not enough to satisfy some of the skeptics, who pointed out several inconsistencies and discrepancies in Nyad’s account. For example, Nyad claimed that she did not wear a wetsuit, but some photos showed her wearing one. She also claimed that she did not use any performance-enhancing drugs, but she admitted to taking anti-inflammatory and anti-nausea medications. She also claimed that she did not touch the boat or any person during the swim, but some witnesses reported seeing her holding onto a kayak or a diver. Moreover, some critics argued that Nyad’s use of a protective suit, a mask, and a team of shark divers violated the spirit and tradition of marathon swimming, which requires swimming in a standard swimsuit, cap, and goggles, and without any external assistance.
The controversy surrounding Nyad’s swim resurfaced when Netflix announced that it would produce a film based on her story, with Bening and Foster as the lead actors. The film, which premiered at the Telluride Film Festival in September 2021, and was released on Netflix on November 3, 2021, received positive reviews from critics and audiences, who praised the performances, the direction, and the inspirational message of the film. However, the film also faced backlash from some of Nyad’s colleagues and experts, who accused the filmmakers of ignoring or glossing over the doubts and questions about Nyad’s swim, and of portraying her in a favorable and flattering light, while omitting or downplaying her flaws and faults. Some of them also expressed their disappointment and frustration with Netflix for choosing to make a film about Nyad, instead of other swimmers who had accomplished more impressive and legitimate feats, without any controversy or dispute.
Nyad’s Life and Career
Nyad was born in New York City in 1949, and grew up in Florida, where she started swimming at a young age. She was a talented and competitive swimmer, who won several state championships and dreamed of competing in the Olympics. However, her swimming career was interrupted by a heart infection, and she was unable to qualify for the 1968 Olympics. She then attended college, where she resumed swimming and focused on distance events. She also faced personal challenges, such as being expelled from one college for jumping out of a window with a parachute, and being sexually abused by her swim coach.
Nyad became a trailblazer in the sport of marathon swimming, setting several records and achieving a number of firsts. She was the first woman to swim around Manhattan Island in 1975, breaking the men’s record by nearly two hours. She was also the first person to swim from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979, covering a distance of 102 miles in 27 hours. She also attempted to swim across the English Channel, the Nile River, and the Cape of Good Hope, but failed to complete these swims. She retired from swimming in 1979, and pursued a career as a sports journalist and broadcaster, working for ABC, NPR, CBS, and other media outlets. She also wrote several books, and gave motivational speeches.
Nyad’s life was not without struggles and setbacks. She battled with depression, addiction, and suicidal thoughts, and she came out as a lesbian in 2007, after years of hiding her sexuality. She also faced criticism and controversy from some of her peers and experts, who questioned her integrity and credibility as a swimmer and a journalist. She was accused of exaggerating or fabricating some of her stories, such as being attacked by a shark, or being chased by a gunman. She was also accused of cheating or bending the rules in some of her swims, such as using a shark cage, or drafting behind a boat. She denied these accusations, and defended her reputation and achievements.
Reaction and Impact of the Film
The film on Nyad has generated mixed reactions and impacts among the public and the swimming community. On one hand, the film has been praised as a powerful and uplifting story of courage, determination, and friendship, and as a tribute to Nyad’s remarkable and inspiring life and career. The film has also been applauded for its portrayal of Nyad as a complex and flawed human being, who overcame her personal demons and physical challenges to pursue her dream. The film has also been commended for its representation of Nyad as a lesbian woman, and for its exploration of the bond between Nyad and Stoll, who supported and challenged each other throughout their journey.
On the other hand, the film has been criticized as a biased and inaccurate account of Nyad’s swim, and as a disservice to the sport and the history of marathon swimming. The film has also been denounced for its omission or distortion of some of the facts and evidence that cast doubt on Nyad’s swim, and for its dismissal or vilification of some of the critics and skeptics who raised legitimate and reasonable questions about Nyad’s swim. The film has also been condemned for its glorification of Nyad as a hero and a legend, and for its neglect or disrespect of other swimmers who had accomplished more impressive and legitimate feats, without any controversy or dispute.
Netflix has responded to the controversy by stating that the film is based on Nyad’s memoir, Find a Way, and that it is not intended to be a documentary or a definitive account of Nyad’s swim. Netflix has also stated that the film is a dramatization of Nyad’s personal and emotional journey, and that it respects the opinions and perspectives of the viewers and the experts. Netflix has also stated that the film is a celebration of Nyad’s spirit and passion, and that it hopes that the film will inspire and empower the viewers to pursue their own dreams and goals.
Nyad is a film that tells the story of Diana Nyad, a long-distance swimmer who achieved her lifelong dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage at the age of 64. The film, directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, and starring Annette Bening and Jodie Foster, has received positive reviews from critics and audiences, who praised the performances, the direction, and the inspirational message of the film. However, the film has also faced backlash from some of Nyad’s colleagues and experts, who questioned the validity and veracity of her swim, and accused her of violating the rules and ethics of marathon swimming. The film has also sparked a debate and a discussion about the sport and the history of marathon swimming, and the role and responsibility of the media and the filmmakers in telling and portraying the stories of the athletes and the heroes. Nyad is a film that challenges and inspires the viewers to find their own way, and to never, ever give up.