Netflix has settled a $5 million lawsuit that resulted from a line in the Emmy-winning limited series, The Queen’s Gambit. Neither the plaintiff nor the defendant has shared the terms.
Soviet chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili filed the suit after the series’ final episode made a reference to her that she claims was sexist and historically inaccurate.
In said episode, while main character Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy) plays her legendary 1968 Moscow match against a male competitor, a commentator says, “The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex. And even that’s not unique in Russia. There’s Nona Gaprindashvili. But she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”
According to a September 2021 complaint, the statement that Gaprindashvili “never faced men” was “grossly sexist and belittling.”
Netflix asked a court to dismiss the case by saying that it only committed a minor inaccuracy. The company also claimed that the series followed a feminist storyline, which should prove that the slight was unintentional. Finally, it said that the inaccuracy shouldn’t matter because the series included the typical disclaimer that reads it “is an entirely fictional work.”
U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled against the streaming giant’s wishes.
“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,” she said. “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.”
The Netflix Plaintiff Has Played Against Dozens of Males Competitors
Despite the line, Nona Gaprindashvili indeed challenged —and defeated—dozens of men during her career. In fact, by the date of the fictionalized match, she had played against at least 59 males—28 of them came in a single game. And she had also competed against at least ten male FIDE title Grandmasters, including Boris Spassky, Viswanathan Anand, and Mikhail Tal, who all became world champions.
In 1978, Gaprindashvili went on to become the first woman to be awarded the FIDE Grandmaster title. She was the fifth women’s world chess champion.
“Not only does this close the gap between associating the supposedly fictional character with the real person, but regardless of whether viewers recognized Plaintiff’s name (as indeed, some did), viewers may reasonably have believed the comment to be one of these historical details incorporated into the Series,” Judge Phillips concluded.
Nona Gaprindashvili had originally requested a jury trial. But most people speculated that Netflix would attempt to settle outside of court before the case gained too much public attention.