Chess champion sues Netflix over 'sexist,' 'devastating falsehood' in The Queen's Gambit

·3 min read
Chess champion sues Netflix over 'sexist,' 'devastating falsehood' in The Queen's Gambit

Check: A former Soviet chess champion, Nona Gaprindashvili, is suing Netflix for defamation over a line in the streamer's award-winning miniseries The Queen's Gambit, which Gaprindashvili's lawsuit calls a "devastating falsehood, undermining and degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions."

The line in question comes in the series' final episode, as the protagonist, Beth (Anya Taylor-Joy), competes for the world chess title in Moscow. An announcer, commentating during one of Beth's matches, remarks, "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."

The problem, however, is that by 1968, when the Queen's Gambit scene takes place, Gaprindashvili had faced men several times. ("Chess: Miss Gaprindashvili Beats 7 Men in a Strong Tourney," reads a New York Times headline from that very year.) She placed fifth at the 1964-65 Hastings International Chess Congress in England, defeating at least four male competitors, and even played against 28 men at once in 1965.

The Queen's Gambit
The Queen's Gambit

PHIL BRAY/NETFLIX Anya Taylor-Joy in 'The Queen's Gambit'

"The allegation that Gaprindashvili 'has never faced men' is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling," the chess champion's lawsuit states, alleging that "she had competed against at least 59 male chess players" by 1968, "including at least 10 Grandmasters." Gaprindashvili's complaint accuses the streamer of false light invasion of privacy and defamation, arguing that "these facts were well known to Netflix," and seeks at least $5 million in damages, as well as a court order to remove the offending line from the series.

In a statement provided to EW, a Netflix spokesperson said, "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."

Gaprindashvili, who was born and still resides in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, began playing chess professionally at age 13 and became the female World Champion in 1961. She was the first woman to be awarded the title of grandmaster, in 1978, and is credited with inspiring other female chess players and helping to combat sexism in the game.

The Queen's Gambit
The Queen's Gambit

CHARLIE GRAY/NETFLIX Anya Taylor-Joy in 'The Queen's Gambit'

"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 chess master's complaint states. "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."

Based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, The Queen's Gambit follows Taylor-Joy's Beth as she rises through the male-dominated chess world of the 1960s, ultimately facing down the Russian world champion at the height of the Cold War. The series was a massive hit for Netflix, becoming the streamer's most-watched limited series ever, according to Netflix's self-reported viewership data. It won two Golden Globes in February and is up for six awards at this weekend's Emmys. (It's already won nine in below-the-line categories, given out at the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony last weekend.) It was also highly lauded for its depiction of chess, which experts hailed as the most accurate representation of the game ever put on screen.

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