A California judge refused on Thursday to dismiss court proceedings filed against Netflix series The Queen's Gambit by Soviet and Georgian chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili. She accused the series of having defamed her in an episode.
Gaprindashvili rose to fame as a chess champion in the Soviet Union in the 1960s. Last year, she approached a federal court in the US to question the series that had portrayed her character and dialogue falsely — that the fifth women's world chess champion "never faced men", according to Deadline. The 80-year-old chess player believes the line was "sexist" and "belittling," and said she had faced approximately 59 male competitors by 1968. This is the same year the series is set in.
In response, Netflix had sought to get the $5 million suit dismissed claiming that the show categorises itself as a work of fiction. But a district judge disagreed with the streaming giant, according to Variety.
The judge found that Gaprindashvilli made a plausible argument that she was defamed in the show. She also argued that if a fiction show depicts real people, then even imaginary scripts aren't safe from defamation suits.
“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. 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," wrote the judge.
Hit drama series The Queen's Gambit is based on a novel written by Walter Tevis in 1983. It follows the story of fictional character named Beth Harmon who becomes an international sensation and a chess champion in the 1960s. In its seventh and last episode, Beth competes with male competitors in Moscow and defeats them. The chess announcer says, "Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards. 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 streaming service argued that the display was to show two chess experts in an effort to deliver the information correctly and that they didn't mean to hurt Gaprindashvili. One of many arguments given by the streaming service's lawyer was that the show always displayed a disclaimer that revealed all show characters were fictional. The judge, on the other hand, dismissed that argument and said it's not enough to dispel the factual claim made by the chess player.
The Queen's Gambit was released in October 2020 with seven episodes. It starred Anya Taylor-Joy in the lead role along with Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Harry Melling, Marielle Heller, Jacob Fortune-Lloyd and Moses Ingram.