The controversial true story behind the Netflix biopic ‘Nyad’
(Credit: Netflix)

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The controversial true story behind the Netflix biopic 'Nyad'

Diana Nyad’s remarkable open-water swimming achievement continues to make waves as her inspiring story is brought to the screen in Netflix’s Nyad. But this true story is not devoid of its fair share of controversies.

The film, starring Annette Bening as Diana Nyad and Jodie Foster as her coach and best friend, Bonnie Stoll, delves into Nyad’s extraordinary journey of swimming from Cuba to Florida, a feat she accomplished on her fifth attempt in 2013 at the age of 64.

However, the controversy surrounding Nyad’s achievement remains as challenging and convoluted as the tumultuous waters she traversed.

While the film portrays Nyad’s incredible determination and the physical hardships she endured, it has come under scrutiny for allegedly omitting essential details from her story. The real woman behind the legend faced not only jellyfish stings and harsh weather conditions but also backlash from various official athletic bodies that questioned the validity of her accomplishment.

The real-life controversy that has plagued Diana Nyad

The World Of Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) played a pivotal role in this controversy when, in September 2023, it released an in-depth report criticising Nyad’s swim. According to WOWSA, Nyad had not adhered to their guidelines, which led them to refuse to ratify her achievement. This decision came after The Guinness Book of World Records, which had initially recognised her feat, removed her record from its online listing.

In the midst of the controversy, Nyad admitted to some exaggerations in her claims, stating that she was embarrassed to have inflated her record. Nonetheless, she maintains that her Cuban swim was a real, remarkable accomplishment. “Am I embarrassed to have inflated my own record when my record is pretty good on its own? Yes, it makes me cringe,” Nyad told the Los Angeles Times at the time.

WOWSA released an article criticising the validity of Nyad before its release in August 2023. The organisation contended that Nyad had created her own rules for the swim, and their former leader and founder, Steven Munatones, who consulted on the film, was no longer associated with WOWSA. Moreover, WOWSA argued that there was insufficient data to ratify Nyad’s swim despite her alleged promise to provide the necessary information.

Despite the doubts and criticism, the producers of Nyad continue to support and stand by their portrayal of Diana Nyad’s story.

Co-producer Jimmy Chin, speaking to Vanity Fair, expressed frustration with these efforts to discredit Nyad, highlighting her complexity and outspoken nature. Co-director Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi echoed these sentiments, emphasising, “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.”

Despite these claims, Nyad has been hailed as a bonafide American sports drama, generating Oscar buzz for the lead performances. 

You can watch Nyad on Netflix. Catch the trailer here: