Netflix Hit With $5M Suit Over “Sexism” Of ‘Queen’s Gambit’ Line About Soviet Chess Legend

Anya Taylor-Joy in 'The Queen's Gambit'
Charlie Gray/Netflix

Poised to win big at this weekend’s 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards, The Queen’s Gambit is now a pawn in a legal game.

Barrier-breaking Soviet chess icon Nona Gaprindashvili has sued Netflix for $5 million and more in a defamation lawsuit over a line in the Anya Taylor-Joy starrer.

Specifically, Gaprindashvili is perturbed by the seemingly incorrect statement in the “End Game” finale of the limited series that compares her real-life accomplishments to that of the Taylor-Joy’s fictional Beth Harmon. “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia,” a commentator quips as Harmon plays in a white-knuckle match in Moscow. “There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”

Umm, not so much.

“Gaprindashvili is a pioneer of women’s chess and a much-loved icon in her native country of Georgia. Throughout her extraordinary career, she won many championships, beat some of the best male chess players in the world, and was the first woman in history to achieve the status of international chess grandmaster among men,” the defamation suit filed in federal court by California lawyers for Gaprindashvili points out (read it here).

Based on Walter Tevi’s 1983 novel, The Queen’s Gambit proved a global sensation with its October 23 launch and goes into this weekend’s Emmys looking like a favorite, having won a leading nine trophies at the Creative Emmys last weekend. One of my Top 10 shows of last year, it follows Beth Harmon (Taylor-Joy), a young girl abandoned to a Kentucky orphanage in the late 1950s who discovers an astonishing talent for chess while battling addiction and the struggles that come with the true gift of genius.

But nonfiction genius isn’t feeling any gifts from the limited series.

“The allegation that Gaprindashvili ‘has never faced men’ is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling,” Gaprindashvili’s 25-page complaint adds. “By 1968, the year in which this episode is set, she had competed against at least 59 male chess players (28 of them simultaneously in one game), including at least ten Grandmasters of that time, including Dragolyub Velimirovich, Svetozar Gligoric, Paul Keres, Bojan Kurajica, Boris Spassky, Viswanathan Anand and Mikhail Tal. The last three were also world champions during their careers.”

And then, the coup de grace.

“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,” attorneys with Rufus-Isaacs Acland & Grantham LLP state for their acclaimed client. “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.”

“This arrogant refusal to take responsibility for its actions was shockingly tone-deaf, given the sexism and offensiveness of its lie,” the suit goes on to say, explaining that Gaprindashvili reached out directly to have the apparent wrong righted. In fact, along with the bigg-ish payout, the chess legend, who makes it very clear in the filing that she is Georgian and not Russian by birth, is seeking to have the line fixed permanently in the series if she wins this lawsuit.


Netflix’s response … well, not a strong move.

“Netflix 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,” said a spokesperson Thursday.

That might require more than the French Defense, if you know what I mean.

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