A Chess Grandmaster Sued Netflix For Defamation Over A Line From ‘The Queen’s Gambit’

The Queen’s Gambit was a work of fiction, but a line about a real chess legend just may have gotten Netflix into hot water. The Anya Taylor-Joy vehicle was a big hit for the streaming platform, as the series based on a novel by Walter Tevis brought the incredibly complex game to the pandemic-stricken that streamed the drama last winter.

But all those real-life chess boards sold because of the work of fiction got some facts wrong according to one notable chess player who is suing Netflix over a line from the series deemed defamatory. Nona Gaprindashvili, the first woman to be named a grandmaster, is a legend of the sport. But as the New York Times detailed, an announcer claimed that she never faced men like Taylor-Joy’s character did in the show.

That, she says, is false. And an attack on her character.

“The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia,” the announcer intones, as a woman watching the match comes into focus. “There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”

The series is fiction, but there is a real pioneering chess champion named Nona Gaprindashvili, the first woman to be named a grandmaster. Now 80 years old and living in Tbilisi, Georgia, she was pained to learn that the television show had erased her many successes against male opponents. (A 1968 headline in The New York Times, for instance, reads, “Chess: Miss Gaprindashvili Beats 7 Men in a Strong Tourney.”)

The lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, hopes to recoup millions in damages for what’s deemed a “devastating falsehood, undermining and degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions.” The grandmaster also wants the line removed from the show.

“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,” Ms. Gaprindashvili said in a recent video interview arranged by her lawyers, speaking in Georgian, which was translated to English by her grandson. “That’s the irony.”

Netflix said that it greatly respected Ms. Gaprindashvili but that it believed her claim was without merit. “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 company said in a statement.

As the Times story notes, the Netflix show’s use of that line didn’t come from the books. In fact, the book mentions that Gaprindashvili had faced other grandmasters, men, “many times before” but not at the level of the tournament the character did in The Queen’s Gambit. But whether a court will rule this is defamation, and whether the line will have to get changed, seems entirely up in the air right now.

[via NY Times]