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Nona Gaprindashvili, one of the top chess players in the world in the 1970s, has advanced her pieces against Netflix over The Queen’s Gambit. The Georgian grandmaster filed a defamation suit on Thursday against the streamer.
The hit series, based on a 1983 novel, focuses on the rise of fictional chess player Beth Harmon. In the show, Harmon is raised in an orphanage and eventually beats Russia’s finest players in the 1960s in Moscow at the height of the Cold War.
But one problem, according to Gaprindashvili.
In the final episode, she’s referenced by a chess commentator who says about Harmon: “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.”
Claiming this comment puts Gaprindashvili in a false light, the suit says “the allegation that Gaprindashvili ‘has never faced men’ is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling.”
Gaprindashvili says by 1968, when the episode is set, she had competed against at least 59 male chess players, including 10 grandmasters. “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,” the complaint alleges.
The former chess champion also takes umbrage with something else.
“Piling on additional insult to injury, Netflix described Gaprindashvili as Russian, despite knowing that she was Georgian, and that Georgians had suffered under Russian domination when part of the Soviet Union, and had been bullied and invaded by Russia thereafter,” the suit says.
Whether a single passing comment in the series is really actionable and hurts Gaprindashvili’s reputation will be determined by the court. Here’s the full complaint. She’s represented by Rodney Smolla, Dean of Delaware Law School of Widener University.
Checkmate here would be compensation for her alleged injury. Gaprindashvili is seeking at least $5 million in actual damages plus more in punitive damages. She also wants a court order that removes the statement that she never played against men.
A Netflix spokesperson responds: “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.”
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