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Netflix will face a $5m defamation lawsuit by a Georgian chess master who alleges she was defamed in the hit series The Queen’s Gambit, after a judge refused to toss the suit on Thursday.
Nona Gaprindashvili, the first woman to be named a chess grandmaster, sued the streaming company in federal court in September. Gaprindashvili alleges that a line from The Queen’s Gambit, where a character incorrectly states that she had “never faced men”, is “grossly sexist and belittling”. Gaprindashvili had played against 59 male competitors by 1968, the year the show is set.
Damages are sought for what the suit claims is a “devastating falsehood, undermining and degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions”.
Netflix had previously asked for the defamation suit to be dismissed, arguing that the series is a piece of fiction and that show’s creators should have artistic license protected under the first amendment.
Netflix further argued that the show used two chess experts to certify details in the series, noting that the reference to Gaprindashvili was meant to “recognize her, not disparage her”, according to the streamer’s lawyers.
But on Thursday’s ruling in California, first reported by Variety, US District Judge Virginia A Phillips found that Gaprindashvili’s argument was reasonable, noting that works of fiction were not immune from defamation if real people were slandered.
“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,” wrote Phillips. “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.”
The Queen’s Gambit, which won 11 Emmy awards in 2021, is based on the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis. The fictional limited series follows the character of Beth Harmon, an American played by Anya Taylor-Joy, as she rises through the ranks of competitive chess in the 1960s.
Gaprindashvili is now 80 and lives in Tbilisi, Georgia. “They were trying to do this fictional character who was blazing the trail for other women, when in reality I had already blazed the trail and inspired generations,” Gaprindashvili said in an interview with the New York Times. “That’s the irony.”
The suit also noted that the film portrayed her as Russian, although she is Georgian.