Nona Gaprindashvili, the first woman in history to be granted the title of Grandmaster, has filed a defamation suit against Netflix on Thursday for misrepresentation in the hugely popular series “The Queen’s Gambit.” Gaprindashvili is seeking US $5 million in damages in the US District Court for the Central District of California (Western Division) and alleges that the streaming powerhouse’s inaccurate portrayal was “grossly sexist and belittling” and undermined the achievements of the real-life women’s chess pioneer.
As the fictional Beth Harmon sits down to play in the final episode of the series, which depicts the heroine trying to navigate the male-dominated and often political world of chess during the Cold War, the announcer speaks to the tens of millions of people watching on Netflix worldwide. “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. . . There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”
Yet, Gaprindashvili faced (and beat) men throughout her entire career. The five-time women’s world champion earned her Grandmaster title by playing against men in a 1972 international tournament, the likes of which she won many times during her decades-long career. Much of the instances of sexism depicted in the series, like the young Harmon being told to play elsewhere when trying to compete in tournaments, was based on the real experiences Gaprindashvili encountered while trying to make it as a woman in a traditionally male-dominated game.
Netflix adapted the concerned line from a book, which excludes any mention of her not playing men and instead referenced Gaprindashvili as having faced the real grandmasters in the story “many times before.” Gaprindashvili says she was “insulted” and that “This is my entire life that has been crossed out, as though it is not important.”
According to the details of the complaint in the suit:
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. 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.
Netflix responded that it “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 suit has drawn much attention in the chess community, which has benefited greatly from the hit series. Chess has become one of the most popular categories on the videogame live streaming site “Twitch” and many have applauded The Queen’s Gambit for drawing attention to the game and for encouraging young girls to play chess.
Grandmaster Hikaru Nakamura, one of the most successful and popular chess players in the world, expressed doubts about the claim’s merits: “If this goes to Court, I’m actually worried she’s going to lose money in this…I don’t think she’s going to win this lawsuit.” For Nakamura, the show’s contribution to chess outweighs a “simple mistake” that he believes does not discredit Gaprindashvili’s reputation such as to warrant damages. Nakamura took a cynical view of the allegation that Gaprindashvili was insulted: “I really should start considering [a lawsuit]. . . I’ve had significantly worse flung at me in a single day of my life than one line in a TV show.”
For Gaprindashvili, the suit is to fight back against wrongdoing. “It is already part of my legacy that women chess players are accepted and becoming grandmasters. This is also a big part of it. It is a fight I began, and it is a fight I am continuing.”