Nyad: The Motion Picture

For over forty years, Diana Nyad has longed for a biopic devoted to her favorite subject, Diana Nyad.*

* I borrowed “favorite subject” from Jonathan Yardley’s 1978 Sports Illustrated review of Nyad’s first memoir, Other Shores. However, Yardley says Nyad has two favorite subjects. He was wrong.

Below is a lightly and snarkily annotated chronological list of all of Nyad’s biopic-related pronouncements that I know of.

7 July 1978

“I’ve written a screenplay based on my life,” she says. “It’s kind of like Rocky. And the happy ending is the Cuba swim.” (Barry Bearak, “The Selling of Diana Nyad,” Miami Herald)

Aug 1978

I’m not saying I have to make two hundred thousand dollars when I reach the other shore. But this swim has to translate into something else for me. I want the American public to recognize me. I want to open a women’s fitness center in Manhattan. I’ve written a screenplay. I could make films. I could stop swimming. It has to be that for me. (Jane Shapiro, “Diana Nyad: The Obsession of the Long Distance Swimmer,” Ms. Magazine)

ROBERT SPECLAND'S "NYAD" SCRIPT MAKES THE BLACK LIST. Also see Variety: 2015 Black List Screenplays.”

Laura Carmichael introduces Robert Specland’s script.

26 Oct 2015

NYAD: I’ve been approached now for the feature film and there are a number of A-list Hollywood people…. [I’m] just running in the other direction….

In other words, while she’s desperate for the movie, she’s also desperate not to seem desperate.

….But I’m probably gonna get a chance to write the adaptation for that film. But it’s gonna be a collaboration. Whole bunch of people are gonna come in and say, “no, no, no, no—we need to have this theme and this scene and whatnot….”

HOST: Who would you want to play you in a feature film?

NYAD: Well, you know, if Sandra Bullock put her name in the mix, how could I complain about that? She’d have to age up to play me. A lot of people have suggested suggested Charlize Theron: tough, and actually looks more like a swimmer than I do. She’s huge…

Charlize Theron in Arrested Development, via Arrested Development Fandom

“Huge” is not the first word that comes to mind when I think of Charlize Theron. Nyad may be thinking about Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road or Monster. But even in those two, she’s still not “huge” (though she wields a huge presence).

…with big broad shoulders, and fierce. So there are actors of that caliber interested. I’m not saying they are those two particular ones. But I, believe me, I’d be lucky to have any of those good actors play this role. (with Michael Krasny, KQED Forum, 32:54)

22 Nov 2015

Nyad has been approached by Hollywood producers who want to put her story to film — and she wants to write the screenplay. “I can’t see myself sitting with a writer and telling them about my life,” Nyad said. (Brodeur, Nicole. “Diana Nyad…explains how her record swim snapped her back to life,” Seattle Times)

"I can understand why people would get behind this script.
I'm just not one of them.... What she's doing is completely pointless.... This is a story about clinical obsessive narcissism."
3 Oct 2017 — Unlike Any Other

Diana believes putting her mind to any task ensures her success with reasonable time and practice. (Linda Sherbert, “Diana’s Big Splash,” Ft. Lauderdale News & Sun Sentinel, 16 Nov 1975)

Below, Nyad begins the extensive preparation she requires before she can fess up to failure. She cannot just say, like us less epic folks might, something like, “turns out I just wasn’t that good at writing screenplays.” No—that would be impossible for someone who believes she can be the best at anything. Faced with failure, and thus faced with a kind of self-annihilation (a pathological narcissist cannot fail), she must become the best, most enlightened failure in the world, just like she did after her English Channel troubles 42 years ago .

Hence, the following protracted stream of nonsense:

My direct, conscious goal is not to be better than others. My intense focus is to be my best self. If that self winds up being interpreted as “unlike any other,” so be it. It may be counterintuitive to the concept of rising to the top of a human chain of achievement, but it sometimes winds up that my letting something go takes more courage and fulfills my vision of always being my best self more than my plodding ahead. Lately, I relinquished my position as screenwriter of my life story….

In other words, two years after the fact, she finally acknowledges that someone else wrote the script, though she never mentions Specland by name:

I was hired to write the script. All parties involved felt I am a writer and storyteller and, although a novice to the genre of the screenplay, I could produce the best script. After a year, it took more strength for me to admit it is a very special and specific genre and would take me a few years to become competent, much less artful, at the genre and so I rose to the occasion…

(just like she rose to the occasion when CNN called her out for lying about being the first woman to swim around Manhattan, after which she quickly sank again)

…and turned it over to a seasoned screenwriter. That was my best self, making the right decision for the project. The people who I admire are those who are authentic to their vision, despite the practical or public obstacles of their journeys. (Sarah Sung, “Diana Nyad | On Inspiration, Motivation and the Drive to Succeed” )

9 Oct 2017

Hollywood has come knocking. And, yes, evidently they’re going to do the story of my adventures and my life. Evidently Sandra Bullock’s interested in playing my role. (Visionary Women, Keynote Speaker: Diana Nyad, 1:27)

NYAD star? Sandra Bullock in Speed 2: Cruise Control.

We’ve migrated from having actors of Sandra Bullock’s caliber interested to having Sandra Bullock herself interested, evidently.

22 Oct 2018

…[T]he feature film is evidently going to be made of my life and my story. I am hoping, just like the book, that it will be something that children see and women see and all kinds of people have a lasting experience that, 10 years later, that movie will still have the validity, you know, of those precepts. You’re never too old to chase your dreams. Everybody needs a team, you know. (with Nely Galán, “Diana Nyad Self Made Story,” 16:27)

I do know.

And I do hope that a great team will make Nyad: The Motion Picture. But I hope that it won’t be about the pretend Nyad she shows to the world, but about the real Nyad who lies and cheats and continues to get away with it over and over and over.

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We’ve Reached The Other Shore, Evidently

Someone did make a full-length movie, but it was a documentary and not a biopic. If we read between the lines, she evidently didn’t like it very much.

But she says so in a deliciously passive-aggressive way (see below). To paraphrase: “Yes, my nephew Tim made the documentary, but I wouldn’t have made it the way he did; lots of other people wanted to make it, and they wouldn’t have made it that way either; but Timothy did, and it was great!”

Nyad begins the stealth attack on her nephew with a story about the Dalai Lama, the point of which she completely misses (though she succeeds in implying a connection between herself and His Holiness). When the Dalai Lama says that the documentary about him “was riveting — I didn’t recognize the person focused in it,” he’s not saying that another director could have a done a better job. He’s saying that the film made him appear much more fascinating than he believes himself to be. Nyad, on the other hand, in talking about her nephew’s film, implies that another director would have made a better film.

HOST: There was a movie made actually, by Timothy Wheeler, about you called The Other Shore? Were you happy with it?

NYAD: Sure. I mean, you know, I read somewhere that the Dalai Lama just this last year had a documentary made it of him, and who knows how many documentaries have been made about his teachings and his person. But he was at the little Q&A at the film afterwards. And, you know, people asked him, “did you enjoy the film? Did you like the film that was on you?” He said, “it was riveting. I didn’t recognize the person focused in it.”

So you know, in some ways, whenever you allow someone else to tell your story. And as a full disclosure, Timothy Wheeler is my nephew, is my personal nephew. And he’s a very talented filmmaker. So is that the exact story I would have told? No, but it’s his film. And as soon as I gave him permission to make the film—and there were frankly several filmmakers who wanted to make the film—I was so proud of what he created, and I was so astonished at the storyline and what…his vision. (with Michael Krasny, KQED Forum, 32:54)

The BEST  Star Trek film (in my objective opinion), and clearly the most apropos. 

“Mr. Sulu, take us home.”

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