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Ex-Soviet Chess Champion Sues Netflix Over Portrayal in “The Queen’s Gambit”

— January 28, 2022

In her lawsuit, Nona Gaprindashvili, a native of the ex-Soviet state of Georgia, claims that “The Queen’s Gambit” wrongfully suggested she had never played against male chess champions.

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that Netflix will have to face a defamation lawsuit filed by former Soviet chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili, who claims a line uttered by a character in “The Queen’s Gambit” is “sexist and belittling.”

According to NBC News, Georgia-born Gaprindashvili, a chess master who became an international champion under the Soviet Union, filed her $5 million defamation lawsuit in the Central District of California.

Gaprindashvili claims that the main character in “The Queen’s Gambit,” Elizabeth Harmon, is a rough approximation of her own life and accomplishments.

In her complaint, Gaprindashvili said another character in the series finale, referencing Gaprindashvili’s real-life success, made comments that were “manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling.”

Speaking about Gaprindashvili, the character said that this “female world champion had never faced men.”

A gavel. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user: Brian Turner. (CCA-BY-2.0).

However, the lawsuit states that Gaprindashvili faced male chess masters on many occasions.

“By 1968, the year in which this episode is set, [Gaprindashvili] had competed against at least 59 male chess players (28 of them simultaneously in one game), including at least ten Grandmasters of that time,” the lawsuit claims.

While Netflix protested the lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips denied the company’s motion to dismiss.

“Netflix does not cite, and the Court is not aware, of any cases precluding defamation claims for the portrayal of real persons in otherwise fictional works,” Phillips said. “The fact that the Series was a fictional work does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all the elements of defamation are otherwise present.”

Phillips opined that the series’ line about Harmon never facing a male challenger could, at the very least, lead viewers to believe the titular character—and her real-life inspiration—could not succeed outside of women’s-only competitions.

“An average viewer easily could interpret the Line, as Plaintiff contends, as ‘disparaging the accomplishments of Plaintiff’ and ‘carr[ying] the stigma that women bear a badge of inferiority’ that fictional American woman Harmon, but not Plaintiff, could overcome,” Phillips wrote. “At the very least, the line is dismissive of the accomplishments central to Plaintiff’s reputation.”

“In context, therefore, Netflix ‘creat[ed] the impression that [it] was asserting objective facts,’” the judge wrote. “Plaintiff sufficiently pleads falsity because the Line is ‘reasonably susceptible of an interpretation which implies a provably false assertion of fact.’”

NBC News reports that Netflix did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, the streaming giant said in September that it “has only the utmost respect for Ms. Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend this case.”


Netflix Must Face ‘Queen’s Gambit’ Lawsuit From Chess Great, Judge Says

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