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Judge rules Netflix can be sued for defamation in The Queen’s Gambit by Soviet chess champion


A judge has ruled that Netflix can be sued for defamation after its hit series The Queen‘s Gambit misrepresented ‘one of the most significant career achievements’ of the trailblazing Soviet chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili. 

The 80-year-old chess legend filed a $5million defamation lawsuit against Netflix over the final episode of the popular series that inaccurately stated that she never competed against men. 

Gaprindashvili, from the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, is a pioneer of women’s chess and the first woman to be earn the title of International Chess Grandmaster.

She said the way she was portrayed in the episode was ‘grossly sexist and belittling.’  

Nona Gaprindashvili, 80, will be allowed to sue Netflix for defamation after the show falsely claimed the chess champion was Russian and had never competed against men 

Gaprindashvili claims Beth Harmon, a fictional character from The Queen's Gambit, (pictured) is an Americanized and fictionalized version of her

Gaprindashvili claims Beth Harmon, a fictional character from The Queen’s Gambit, (pictured) is an Americanized and fictionalized version of her

Gaprindashvili’s lawyers claimed the mistake had been streamed to ‘millions of viewers worldwide’ and ‘tarnished (her) personal and professional reputation’. 

On Thursday, a judge at the California Central District Court ruled that the streaming giant can still be sued for defamation citing that ‘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,’ legal documents said. 

The judge also noted that there had been no evidence of any cases ‘precluding defamation claims for the portrayal of real persons in otherwise fictional works. 

The Queen’s Gambit became one of Netflix’s most popular shows and set a record for the most viewers ever for a scripted limited-run series in the first 28 days after it premiered on October 23, 2020. 

It went on to win 11 Emmys last year, including one to Anya Taylor-Joy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie.

The show follows a fictional character named Beth Harmon, played by Taylor-Joy, a child prodigy who grows up in a Kentucky orphanage in the 1950s and goes on to become a chess legend.

The character, based on a 1983 novel, beats even the most impressive Russian players of the time.  

In the final episode of the series, Taylor’s character takes on a fictional Russian man by the name of Viktor Laev in Moscow.

In the scene, the announcer says: ‘The only unusual thing about her really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia.’

‘There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.’

Gaprindashvili is a Soviet pioneer of women's chess from Georgia and the first woman to earn the title of International Chess Grandmaster  (Pictured: Nona Gaprindashvili playing against 28 men at once in Dorset, UK, January 1965)

Gaprindashvili is a Soviet pioneer of women’s chess from Georgia and the first woman to earn the title of International Chess Grandmaster  (Pictured: Nona Gaprindashvili playing against 28 men at once in Dorset, UK, January 1965) 

The international chess star has won many championships and beat some of the best male chess players in the world (Pictured: Nona Gaprindashvili competing in the Ladies International Chess Tournament in Romford, Essex)

The international chess star has won many championships and beat some of the best male chess players in the world (Pictured: Nona Gaprindashvili competing in the Ladies International Chess Tournament in Romford, Essex) 

Gaprindashvili argues in the lawsuit that by the year the episode is set, 1968, she had already competed against 59 men – beating 28 of them simultaneously.   

The chess legend had competed against ‘at least ten Grandmasters of that time, including Dragolyub Velimirovich, Svetozar Gligoric, Paul Keres, Bojan Kurajica, Boris Spassky, Viswanathan Anand and Mikhail Tal. The last three were also world champions during their careers,’ the lawsuit states.  

The suit also contends that Taylor’s character is an Americanized and fictionalized version of the real-life female Georgian prodigy. It also points out that show referred to her as being from Russia, instead of Georgia.  

Netflix had argued that ‘no reasonable viewer would have understood the line to convey a statement of fact’ as the series was presented as ‘an entirely fictional work,’ according to legal documents obtained by the Press Association. 

The company also tried to argue that its viewers would need ‘knowledge of competitive Soviet chess in the 1960s’ to grasp the alleged defamatory remark, the documents said.  

However, the California Central District Court denied a motion to dismiss a US defamation lawsuit. 

Netflix is accused of deliberately offering a wrong portrayal of Gaprindashvili for the sake of hyping up the storyline and drama in the story.

‘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’

‘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,’ the 25-pages long lawsuit read.

Gaprindashvili claims she contacted Netflix after the show was released and noted that ‘multiple news outlets and various individual internet users commented on the inaccuracy of the line.’ 

She said she asked for a retraction and apology, but was dismissed by the company and her complain was called ‘innocuous.’  

Throughout her career, Gaprindashvili won many championships and beat some of the best male chess players in the world.

She started playing chess at the age of 13, much like Taylor-Joy’s character, and at age 20, became the female World Champion.

Gaprindashvili's lawsuit notes that 'the line cuts to the heart of her hard-won standing in her profession'

Gaprindashvili’s lawsuit notes that ‘the line cuts to the heart of her hard-won standing in her profession’ 

Gaprindashvili has won 25 medals, including eleven team goal medals and nine individual ones. 

The lawsuit claims: ‘She encountered severe prejudice because she was a woman —and often the only woman — competing amongst men.’ 

Gaprindashvili’s ‘life-long career is in the world of competitive chess, in which she remains an active leader, role-model, and competitor and contends that the line cuts to the heart of her hard-won standing in her profession.’  

The international icon, who lives in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, still plays chess and has won several senior world championships.  

‘The professional reputation and brand of Gaprindashvili was inextricably bound up with her courageous efforts to face and defeat estimable male opponents when chess was overwhelmingly a man’s world.’ 



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