Over the last several years, I’ve gathered indisputable evidence of Diana Nyad’s five-decade history of lies. I’ve also found multiple instances of her minimizing and outright stealing the accomplishments of other women.
The Nyad filmmakers can’t concede Nyad’s history of deceit because doing so would acknowledge their blunder.
Instead, they and others respond to Nyad’s detractors with name-calling and dismissiveness.
For now, their defense boils down to this:
Diana Nyad’s critics are sexist, ageist, jealous, homophobic haters who can’t abide outspoken women. We’ve investigated their criticisms and find them irrelevant.
They make these arguments in two articles so far:
“First Look: Annette Bening Swims Toward the Role of a Lifetime in ‘Nyad,’” (Vanity Fair, 21 Aug 2023)
“Netflix has Oscar hopes for its Diana Nyad biopic. But the swimmer’s exaggerations cast a pall” (Los Angeles Times, 30 Aug 2023)
The first is a puff piece. It mentions Nyad’s detractors for one purpose: to give the Nyad directors a chance to attack them.
The second is not a puff piece and includes voices from both sides.
Here’s what co-directors Jimmy Chin, Chai Vasarhelyi, and others say about Nyad’s critics:
“When you are pushing the edges of your sport, you have a target on your back — and, it seems, particularly if you’re an outspoken gay woman in her 60s. (LAT)
A hat trick! Three personal attacks — homophobia, sexism, and ageism — in just five words.
“When you look at an athlete pushing the boundaries of their sport, there are always armchair critics, naysayers and skeptics.” (LAT)
Sometimes, though, many participants in the sport believe an athlete has lied about their accomplishments. When that happens, you ought to pay attention. See, for instance, this thread on Nyad’s Facebook page.
“As documentary filmmakers, the first thing we did was to look into some of these criticisms—and found that they weren’t valid.” (VF)
I would love to know how Chin conducted his research. I assume he asked Steven Munatones something like, “Is Diana legit?” He responded, “Of course!” And that was the end of it.
I’d be glad for someone to prove me wrong.
Co-director Chai Vasarhelyi:
“Diana Nyad is a complicated and extraordinary human who did something astonishing,” she says. “Self-aggrandizing? I don’t know if we’d say that if we were talking about a man.” (LAT)
I do. See also Ross Edgley, who’s right up there with Nyad in the self-aggrandizing department.
And Diana’s not that complicated — even she says so at the end of the Times article. She only gets complicated when someone tries to normalize her deceitful behavior.
“I think Diana is just not afraid to say what she thinks and talk about what she has done.”
And what she hasn’t done.
“We’re not unfamiliar with people questioning certain feats. But we brought our most clear-eyed, stringent, ethical nonfiction backgrounds to look at it, and it really seemed irrelevant.”
Got it — Nyad’s history of serial lying and tearing down other women doesn’t matter. Here at the Nyad Factcheck Annex, we’re not unfamiliar with such empty rationalizations.
Speaking of tearing down:
“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 says. (VF)
Nyad’s detractors aren’t “trying to tear her down” unless that means “trying to expose the truth about her.”
Nyad has never owned who she is unless you count the day she said, “Somebody’s going to find out I’m a fraud. ” Diana Nyad is a con artist, a vocation at which she excels. They made this biopic, didn’t they?
Marathon swimmer Shelley Taylor-Smith:
Of Nyad’s critics, Taylor-Smith says, “There’s always going to be the haters.” (LAT)
Taylor-Smith and Dr. Angel Yanagihara, Nyad’s jellyfish expert:
Some of Nyad’s defenders, including Yanagihara and Taylor-Smith, suggest that there is an undercurrent of sexism and possibly homophobia driving the criticism of her. (LAT)
It’s much easier to call people names like sexist, homophobe, and hater than to engage in a rational argument — unless you have no rational argument to offer.
If you shout, “I’m the champion,” and you are the champion, more power to you.
However, If you shout, “I was the first woman to swim around Manhattan,” but you were the seventh; “I finished 6th in the 100-meter backstroke final of the 1968 US Olympic Trials,” but that was Laura Novak, a 14-year-old from Michigan; “In the 1970s, I was the best ocean swimmer in the world. I held all the major records on planet Earth, out in the open sea,” but you never completed a single one of the major ocean swims on planet earth — then anyone would be entitled to take issue with your outspokenness.
Unfortunately for Chin and Vasarhelyi, they made a film glorifying an outspoken, charismatic charlatan. Now they’re stuck defending her. All they can do is attack those who want to tell the truth.
~ ~ ~
Update, 4 Sep 2023: After I wrote this, The Hollywood Reporter published an interview in which Chin and Vasarhelyi addressed the skeptics mainly with variations on the ploys I describe above. However, they seem to be trying out a new one: She “exaggerated” earlier in her career. They imply that she’s done with lying now, just like she said she was back in 1976.
It’s true I used to lie. . . . Only to impress myself. I would tell a cab driver a lie—anybody. I don’t have to do that anymore. (The Village Voice)