Netflix Can’t Checkmate Chess Grandmaster in ‘Queen’s Gambit’ Libel Lawsuit – The Hollywood Reporter
Netflix has lost a bid to end a lawsuit from a Georgian chess champion who says she was defamed in an episode of The Queen’s Bet.
In September, Nona Gaprindashvili sued Netflix in response to a fictional chess commentator’s line in the series finale, who refers to her by name and says she’s “the world champion and has never confronted by men”. She argues that the statement is false and sexist.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips found the streaming giant acted with a “reckless disregard” for the truth, rejecting arguments that it could not be sued for defaming real people in works of fiction. “To the contrary, the fact that the series is a work of fiction does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all elements of defamation are otherwise present,” she wrote.
The Emmy-winning series chronicles the rise of fictional American chess player Elizabeth Harmon. The show, which topped the streaming charts for three straight weeks, culminates with Harmon beating the top Russian players in the 1960s at the height of the Cold War.
The show is based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevi, but it references real chess players, including this passing reference to Gaprindashvili in a scene that compares his accomplishments to Harmon’s.
In a motion to strike the complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP law, Netflix argued that no viewer would have understood the line to convey a statement of fact because the series is fiction and “the works of fiction have no obligation to be truthful”.
But Phillips ruled she was not aware of any cases that ruled out defamation claims for the depiction of real people in otherwise fictional works. However, it should be noted that these types of cases – such as those involving the Injured locker, Straight outta Compton, the wolf of Wall Street and Rivalry: Bette and Joan – often end in a loss for disgruntled subjects, which ultimately bodes well for Netflix.
Here, despite some of the fictional elements of the allegedly defamatory line, the judge said she could not ignore that she identified Gaprindashvili by name and that the show referred to real people and events.
“Not only does it bridge the gap between the association of the supposedly fictional character with the real person, whether or not viewers recognized the name of the claimant (as indeed some did), viewers may reasonably have believed that the commentary was one of those historical details incorporated into the series,” she wrote.
Netflix also argued that it didn’t defame Gaprindashvili because viewers wouldn’t find the statement that she “never faced men” to be derogatory. The streaming giant said the involvement is inconsistent with the series’ depiction of the structural barriers that hindered the advancement of women in elite chess during the 1960s.
Phillips interpreted the line in a different way. She found that it “clearly conveys an importance to the very achievement of playing chess against men – not only because men were supposed to be better at chess, but also because it was a monumental achievement to break into this. world”.
At the very least, the judge said the comment dismisses Gaprindashvili’s accomplishment, which constitutes a reputational attack that could harm his career.
Phillips found that Netflix acted maliciously in the performance, a necessary part of a defamation case, as the show’s showrunners changed the line of the novel it’s based on. The novel states that Gaprindashvili was a gambler who “had met all these great Russian masters many times before”.
Netflix declined to comment on the decision, which is embedded below.