Former female chess champion sues Netflix over 'sexist' line in 'The Queen's Gambit'

Nona Gaprindashvili is seeking $5 million in damages over a false statement made about her in the series

THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT (L to R) ANYA TAYLOR as BETH HARMON in THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT. Cr. CHARLIE GRAY/NETFLIX © 2020

Popular series The Queen's Gambit, about prodigal chess player Beth Harmon, may be widely acclaimed and up for six Primetime Emmy Awards, but there is, at least, one well-known person who is not a fan.

Ex-Soviet chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili is suing Netflix over a "sexist" reference to her in the show, which stars Anya Taylor-Joy as lead character.

The Georgian chess player, who was the first woman to be awarded the FIDE title Grandmaster, is unhappy about one particular line that came up in the End Game finale of the limited series.

“The only unusual thing about her, really, is her sex, and even that’s not unique in Russia,” a commentator says as Harmon plays a tense match in Russia. “There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.”

Watch the trailer here:

The allegation, claims a defamation suit filed in federal court by California lawyers, is "manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling", and Gaprindashvili is seeking up to $5 million in damages.

"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 10 Grandmasters of that time," the lawsuit states.

"These facts were well known to Netflix, both from the novel which stated that [Gaprindashvili] had 'met all these Russian Grandmasters many times before', and because it had hired two of the world’s leading chess authorities as consultants for the series," it continues.

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In a story that was supposed to inspire women ... Netflix humiliated the one real woman trailblazer
Nona Gaprindashvili's defamation claim

"Netflix brazenly and deliberately lied about Gaprindashvili’s achievements for the cheap and cynical purpose of 'heightening the drama' ... 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 trailblazer who had actually faced and defeated men on the world stage in the same era."

Gaprindashvili, 80, who lives in Georgia, continues to compete in chess tournaments to this day.

The Queen's Gambit is based on Walter Tevi's 1983 novel of the same name. It became a global sensation and won nine trophies at the Creative Emmys last weekend, and it's up for six more Emmys next week.

The show follows Beth, a young American girl abandoned at an orphanage in the 1950s who discovers her passion and talent for chess while also dealing with addiction and mental health issues.

"Harmon’s character plainly draws on her achievements," claims the lawsuit. "Harmon is in many respects an Americanised and fictionalised version of the real-life female Georgian prodigy who was the first to break gender barriers in international chess in the 1960s by competing with and defeating top male players."

After the series was broadcast, Gaprindashvili confronted Netflix over the line, demanding a public statement of falsity and apology, and a retraction, according to the lawsuit. Netflix allegedly dismissed her claim, saying the statement was "innocuous".

"This arrogant refusal to take responsibility for its actions was shockingly tone-deaf, given the sexism and offensiveness of its lie."

A representative for Netflix responded to the defamation suit on Thursday, saying: “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."

Updated: September 17th 2021, 7:19 AM