Chess player sued Netflix for libel over “The Queen’s Gambit”

The Queen’s Gambit was a work of fiction, but a line about a true chess legend may have put Netflix in the hot water. The Anya Taylor-Joy vehicle was a big hit for the streaming platform, as the Walter Tevis novel-based series brought the incredibly complex gameplay to the pandemic that aired the drama last winter.

But all of those actual chess boards sold because of fiction work got some facts wrong according to a notable chess player suing Netflix over a line from the series deemed libelous. Nona Gaprindashvili, the first woman to be named Grandmaster, is a sports legend. But as the New York Times detailed, one presenter claimed she had never faced men like the character Taylor-Joy did on the show.

This, she says, is wrong. And an attack on his character.

“The only thing unusual about her, really, is her gender, and even that is not unique to Russia,” the announcer intones, as a woman watching the game comes into focus. “There is Nona Gaprindashvili, but she is the female world champion and she has never faced men.

The series is fictional, but there is a true pioneering chess champion named Nona Gaprindashvili, the first woman to be named Grandmaster. Now 80 years old and living in Tbilisi, Georgia, she was saddened to learn that the TV show had erased her many successes against male opponents. (A 1968 headline in the New York Times, for example, reads: “Chess: Miss Gaprindashvili beats 7 men in strong tournament.”)

The lawsuit, which was filed in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, hopes to recover millions in damages for what is considered a “devastating lie, undermining and degrading his accomplishments in front of an audience of millions of people.” . The grandmaster also wants the line removed from the show.

“They were trying to make this fictional character who was leading the way for other women, when in reality I had already paved the way and inspired generations,” Ms Gaprindashvili said in a recent video interview hosted by her lawyers, speaking Georgian, which was translated into English by her grandson. “It’s irony.”

Netflix has said it respects Ms Gaprindashvili very much but considers her request to be without merit. “Netflix has 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 company said in a statement.

As the Times article notes, the Netflix show’s use of this line does not come from the books. In fact, the book mentions that Gaprindashvili had faced other grandmasters, men, “several times before”, but not at the tournament level that the character did in The Queen’s Gambit. But whether a court will rule that this is libel, and whether the line will need to be changed, that seems totally on hold for now.

[via NY Times]


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