Netflix faces Queen’s Gambit lawsuit
James R | On 17, Sep 2021
With The Queen’s Gambit in a strong position ahead of the Emmy Awards this weekend, Netflix is facing a surprise move from an unexpected opponent – a lawsuit from chess player Nona Gaprindashvili.
Now 80 years old, Gaprindashvili was the first woman to be awarded the FIDE title Grandmaster back in 1978. She is mentioned in Netflix’s drama, based on Walter Tevi’s 1983 novel, which follows young chess prodigy Beth Harmon, who breaks boundaries in carving out her professional success. But that mention has now led to a $5 million defamation lawsuit.
The line in question is in the final episode, when the (fictional) Harmon is compared to the (very real) Gaprindashvili. “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia,” comments one character during a match in Moscow. “There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”
But Gaprindashvili’s lawyers have pointed out that this is incorrect, with the chess player beating “some of the best male chess players in the world”.
“The allegation that Gaprindashvili ‘has never faced men’ is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling,” says the document. “By 1968, the year in which this episode is set, she had competed against at least 59 male chess players (28 of them simultaneously in one game), including at least 10 Grandmasters of that time, including Dragolyub Velimirovich, Svetozar Gligoric, Paul Keres, Bojan Kurajica, Boris Spassky, Viswanathan Anand and Mikhail Tal.”
“Netflix brazenly and deliberately lied about Gaprindashvili’s achievements for the cheap and cynical purpose of ‘heightening the drama’ by making it appear that its fictional hero had managed to do what no other woman, including Gaprindashvili, had done,” commented
But Gaprindashvili’s lawyers. “Thus, in a story that was supposed to inspire women by showing a young woman competing with men at the highest levels of world chess, Netflix humiliated the one real woman trail blazer who had actually faced and defeated men on the world stage in the same era.”
Netflix has responded, with a spokesperson saying: “Netflix has only the utmost respect for Ms. Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend the case.”
The lawsuit arrives after the series won an impressive nine awards from the first round of the 2021 Emmys, with 18 Emmy nominations in total. A record-setting 62 million households chose to watch The Queen’s Gambit in its first 28 days on Netflix, making it the streamer’s most popular limited series.