Netflix “The Queen’s Gambit” Controversy: Chess grandmaster Nona Gaprindashvili, 80, filed a suit in September claiming that a line in the series in which a character claims she had “never faced men”
A judge on Thursday refused to dismiss GM Nona Gaprindashvili’s defamation lawsuit against Netflix, meaning the suit can proceed. The streaming and production company had claimed that because The Queen’s Gambit is a work of fiction, it would be immune from defamation suits, but the judge disagreed.
Now 80 years old, Gaprindashvili is the fifth women’s world chess champion and the first female player ever to gain the “general” grandmaster title. She sued Netflix in September of last year for “false light invasion of privacy” and defamation after a line in the hit series The Queen’s Gambit falsely stated that she “never faced men” at the chessboard. In reality, the Georgian chess legend faced many men in her career, including three world champions: GMs Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, and Viswanathan Anand.
Netflix wanted to have the suit dismissed, arguing that the series is a work of fiction. However, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips disagreed and noted that Gaprindashvili had made a plausible argument that she was defamed in The Queen’s Gambit. In what might prove to be significant case law in the future, Phillips made the point that works of fiction are not immune from defamation suits if they disparage real people.
The ruling includes: “As an initial matter, 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. On the contrary, 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.”
Netflix also claimed that, even if believed, the line that says Gaprindashvili “never faced men” is not defamatory. The company argued that for reasonable viewers of the series this line would not carry an implication of Gaprindashvili’s inferiority, but merely showcase the structural barriers that impeded women’s advancement in elite chess in the 1960s. The judge disagreed here as well and said the average viewer could easily see the line as disparaging.