The docudrama Netflix film centers on long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad (Annette Benning), who stopped swimming competitively after she turned 30 years old, although her failure to complete the journey from Cuba to Florida continued to plague her. Based on her autobiography book, “Find a Way,” Julie Cox adapted the screenplay.
Jodi Foster portrays her caring, good friend Bonnie Stoll, who helped Diana reach her goal. A goal that required tremendous help from others, as swimming in a shark and jellyfish-infested ocean for a 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida without getting out of the water is not a solo effort. In full transparency, the movie is emotional, riveting, and motivating. However, upon further research for this review, I discovered that, sadly, Nyad requested that the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA) ratify her swim from Cuba to Florida five years after the event. It took WOWSA four years to respond, concluding in 2022 explaining there was insufficient evidence to prove that Nyad never exited the water during her journey, so it could not recognize the accomplishment. Nyad’s event was also removed from the Guinness Book of World Records archives.
The movie takes us through her journey in 2010; at age 60, Nyad decided to finish the swim she started in 1978 without a shark cage. She began preparing for the swim that same year, and her second attempt at the swim occurred on August 7, 2011. After spending 29 hours in the water, though, Nyad, once again, encountered environmental issues and had to stop. Plus, she was suffering from shoulder pain, and her asthma complicated things.
Nyad’s third attempt occurred a little more than a month later, on September 23, but she had to stop after 41 hours because of jellyfish in the water. She returned to Havana on August 18, 2012, for her fourth attempt, which resulted in her ending the swim after almost 42 hours because of jellyfish stings, storms, and the threat of sharks. One year later, on August 31, 2013, Nyad began her fifth attempt and was finally successful when she made it to Key West on September 2 after 53 hours in the water. As stated above, Nyad’s Cuba-Florida Swim is controversial because it was never formally ratified, despite Nyad claiming to be the first person to accomplish the feat. As a result, the Guinness Book of World Records removed it from its archives, as stated above.
Given that “Nyad” is based on Diana Nyad’s autobiography, Find a Way, the 2023 Netflix movie appears to be as accurate as a film adaption. However, some of the facts were changed due to the filmmaker’s attempt to bring drama into the story. The film focused on a small group of people helping her, although it appears that she had about 40 people helping her. One would assume that if she had 40 witnesses, that would suffice in establishing the authenticity of the long-distance swim. Although, not sure why there was no official from WOWSA documenting the swims, especially the last one.
The bottom line is that as a docudrama movie, both performances by seasoned actors in their prime, Annette Benning and Jodie Foster, are award-worthy. Both are fabulous to watch; several scenes could easily be used as a study in filmmaking classes. I applaud both women, as this physically challenging movie to re-create is not an easy task. I’m all in and can highly recommend this movie to teens and adults. Diana’s determination is fascinating to watch. Against all odds, she continued to follow her dream and never gave up! Truly an important life lesson for all.
Sarah Knight Adamson© January 14, 2024