Nona Gaprindashvili, the first female chess grandmaster, is taking Netflix to court over The Queen’s Gambit. The Soviet-Georgian champion played competitively from the 1960s to the 1990s, sometimes in women-only competitions (she was the women’s world champion from 1962 to 1978) but also winning against men. She accuses The Queen’s Gambit of misrepresenting her success and is suing for defamation.
The Queen’s Gambit follows the career of a female chess champion in the 1950s and ’60s: the troubled American prodigy Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy). Much of the conflict stems from her role as a lone woman in a male-dominated field. But according to Gaprindashvili, the show erased Gaprindashvili’s real achievements to make the fictional Harmon look more impressive.
During the final episode, Harmon competes in a tournament in Moscow. The announcer points out that she’s an unusual competitor due to her gender, adding: “There’s Nona Gaprindashvili, but she’s the female world champion and has never faced men.” In reality, Gaprindashvili had faced men. As the New York Times points out, she received American media coverage for defeating seven men in 1968; just one of many victories.
The 80-year-old Gaprindashvili filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles, accusing the show of spreading a “devastating falsehood, undermining and degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions.” She wants Netflix to remove the reference to her career and pay $5 million in damages.
The 25-page court document accuses Netflix of defamation and false light invasion of privacy. “Netflix brazenly and deliberately lied about Gaprindashvili’s achievements for the cheap and cynical purpose of ‘heightening the drama,'” it reads, saying that The Queen’s Gambit “humiliated the one real woman trail blazer who had actually faced and defeated men on the world stage in the same era.” The show also describes Gaprindashvili as Russian, when she’s actually Georgian—a country that was part of the Soviet Union at the time.
Like the fictional Beth Harmon, Gaprindashvili started competing as a teenager and faced sexism throughout her career. In a recent interview, she said, “Whenever they saw me as a small, short, young girl, they would tell me to get in line — to play next time, but not now. But I always asserted my place.”
While The Queen’s Gambit doesn’t claim to be factual, this defamation case may have legs. Gaprindashvili is a real person who was clearly identified on-screen, and the show does misrepresent her career. Meanwhile, the false light invasion of privacy accusation relies on the idea that these inaccuracies were “highly offensive to a reasonable person.” The lawsuit points out that the show was watched by millions, overshadowing Gaprindashvili’s current reputation in the public eye.
Update 12:32pm CT Sept. 17: When reached for comment, a Netflix spokesperson said in a statement to the Daily Dot, “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.”