Diana Nyad, ‘Nyad’ Directors Defend Biopic Ahead of Nov. 3 Netflix Release

by Riley Overend 22

September 08th, 2023 News, Open Water

‘Nyad,’ the biopic about Diana Nyad’s historic Cuba-to-Florida swim at age 64, premiered last weekend at the Telluride Film Festival ahead of its Nov. 3 release on Netflix. Catch a first glimpse of the film here featuring four-time Oscar nominee Annette Bening as Nyad and Oscar winner Jodie Foster as her coach, Bonnie Stoll:

But as Oscar hype builds for the star-studded cast, excitement for the film has been met by a wave of scrutiny from the open water swimming community. SwimSwam went in depth into why the 110-mile, 53-hour journey has remained such a major point of contention a decade later, but neither Nyad nor directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (2018’s Free Solo) responded to requests for comment earlier this year. Now as part of the ‘Nyad’ press tour hitting the LA Times, Hollywood Reporter, Vanity Fair, and other media outlets, the trio is speaking publicly in defense of the film.

“Our film is not about a record,” Varsarhelyi told the LA Times. “Our film is not about how many times someone was touched. It’s about how a woman woke up at 60 and realized she wasn’t finished, even though the world may be finished with her.”

Chin said they looked into some of the criticisms and “found that they weren’t valid.”

“When you look at an athlete pushing the boundaries of their sport, there are armchair critics, naysayers, and skeptics,” Chin said. “That’s just part of the deal. But there’s no question that she swam 110 miles.”

Chin and Vasarhelyi said they did their “research” and “due diligence” with this project, pointing out that Nyad “acknowledges her shortcomings.” The swimmer-turned-journalist-turned-motivational speaker has a history of exaggerating her past accomplishments, including claiming that she was the first woman to circle Manhattan, won a national title at age 16, broke a world record in the 100-meter backstroke later that summer, and competed at the Olympic Trials — none of which appear to be true.

“Am I embarrassed to have inflated my own record when my record is pretty good on its own? Yes, it makes me cringe,” Nyad said. “Some of those statements are 45 years old — there wasn’t even an internet then. But I’m human and I like to think that I’ve lived a life that now makes me proud of who I am.”

Last year, the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) completed a comprehensive analysis that found no evidence of cheating, but it maintained that Nyad broke rules required to qualify for an “unassisted” crossing. Two weeks ago, WOWSA said that Nyad refused to accept offers for an “assisted” ratification review and that Guinness World Records no longer recognizes Nyad’s swim as record-breaking. She’s the third person ever to cross the Florida Straits from Cuba to Florida after Walter Poenisch in 1978 and Susie Maroney in 1997, but still the first to do so without a shark cage.

Last week, however, Nyad told the LA Times that she would now accept an “assisted” ratification after a decade of seeking “unassisted” status.

“We didn’t want an asterisk next to the swim,” Nyad said. “But if anybody wants to ratify it now and stamp it assisted, we can accept it. Because we did it fair and square, no help in any way.”

Vasarhelyi said that “you see it all in the film,” crediting Nyad for not trying to control the portrayal of her “complicated” character. In one scene, for example, Foster’s Stoll tells Nyad that she has “a superiority complex.”

“I’m just a little tired of the internet trying to tear down a woman who’s complicated and outspoken and owns who she is,” Vasarhelyi told Vanity Fair. “We went to great lengths in the film to be able to live up to that. She is a complicated person who has a complicated life.

“We don’t say, ‘It’s based on a true story,’ we don’t say, ‘It is a true story’ — but it is a true story,” she added. “It’s about this idea of truth.”

The Netflix trailer teases the film as an “extraordinary true story” despite WOWSA advising Netflix “to include a disclaimer emphasizing the film’s dramatized nature.”

Bening trained with former U.S. Olympic swimmer Rada Owen for about a year to prepare for her role as Nyad and quickly fell in love with the water.

“I began to just completely fall in love with it because of how it affects your central nervous system and your brain — and that, for me, that’s why it gets addictive,” said Bening, 65. “You reach a state where the mind stops chattering or criticizing or planning. And suddenly everything quiets down.

“I will definitely keep swimming,” Bening added. “It keeps me calm.”

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Marathon Swimmer
12 days ago


When there are more untruths than accomplishments, it makes one look the other way.

No credibility or honor – this is shameful and immoral behavior.

13 days ago

There is nothing wrong with what she does and there is nothing wrong with self promotion and making money off your endeavors. But man does it boil my blood when she calls the open water swimming community “arm chair quarterbacks.” The people who have been critical of Nyad simply want her acknowledgment that she didn’t complete the swim in a regulated way. Which is fine! It seems that giving up on getting the record recognized is a step in that direction, but geez, she’s known this for a decade.

Nick B
13 days ago

Diana Nyad was never top or dominant marathon swimmer at any time in her career. Her specialization was long solo swims coupled with publicity, even though her actual results in that space were mixed.

Her focus always seems to have been to turn a very difficult endeavor (marathon swimming) into money. She has done well with it, but other swimmers are so much more accomplished.They really didn’t need to tell you how good they were, because they didn’t need the attention.

For a good snapshot of her marathon swimming history, go to: https://longswims.com/p/diana-nyad/

13 days ago

Spending time arguing or harping over what was done is only wasted breath.
Nyad did a cool swim, while not completely unassisted, nor recognized as such.

Hopefully people are inspired to exercise and swim from this.

13 days ago

If you like the movie great. If you don’t like the movie great. Movies get made not because they tell the truth but because they tell a story that people will pay to see. If you want to make a movie that tells a different side of this that’s easy, put up the $50-100mm+ and do whatever you want. Movies are a business plain and simple

Daniel Slosberg
Reply to  Anwar
13 days ago

You’re absolutely right: It’s all about money. And someone’s spending a lot of it right now trying to keep Nyad’s deceit from ruining their investment.

Pool Noodle
Reply to  Daniel Slosberg
12 days ago

I looked you up and you seem to be someone who has some open water experience….it seems strange that you’re not simply happy to have some attention on Open Water Swimming…
THE MASS MAJORITY doesn’t care whether she did it or not.

how do we know your swims were/are legit?

Daniel Slosberg
Reply to  Pool Noodle
12 days ago

Because I had real observers who held me to the rules of the sport; my crews were composed of people who knew marathon swimming (some crew members were marathon swimmers themselves); and I didn’t go into my swims with a decades-long history of lying about my achievements and trying to erase other swimmers from history.

Other than that, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

14 days ago

I watch so much swimming. I watch so much Netflix.

Somehow I still know I will never have time for this.

14 days ago

Kudos to swimswam for covering questions about the authenticity of the swim. However, there is likely to be no serious disagreement about her achievement in the broader media. Her story fits a girl-power feminist narrative and so will not be questioned.

MAC Daddy
Reply to  Nick
14 days ago

“A girl-power feminist narrative.” They will never miss an opportunity to identify themselves and tell you exactly who they are.

Reply to  MAC Daddy
13 days ago

She was (and indeed still is) a great swimmer but you will believe anything if you believe she went 110 miles at age 64. And if she were a man, the story would the appropriate one of narcissistic corner cutting instead of gender empowerment.

Reply to  Nick
13 days ago

Nick. I really hope you don’t have daughters. Your generalizations reek of anger and misogyny.

Climate Change Hysteria!
14 days ago

Remember: there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Even this negative buzz is still buzz.

The film’s publicists are eating this up!

Daniel Slosberg
Reply to  Climate Change Hysteria!
14 days ago

Maybe, but I doubt it. The film’s publicists are working overtime trying to counter the bad press while working to silence Nyad before she sullies the film any further. See yesterday’s Daily Mail: “Spinners for the film are saying that [Oscar] voters should separate the flaws of the character from the achievements of the film.”

The “no such thing as bad publicity” platitude works both ways — yes, the film’s getting more press than it might have. But much of that press involves Nyad’s lies, not Annette Bening’s Oscar chances.

And this is the first time those lies have gone mainstream. That’s a win for those of us who believe little Nyad says.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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