GM Nona Gaprindashvili has filed a lawsuit against Netflix for “false light invasion of privacy” and defamation after a line in the hit series The Queen’s Gambit erroneously suggested that she was playing only against women.
The fifth women’s world chess champion seeks over five million dollars in damages for what the suit claims is a “devastating falsehood, undermining and degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions.”
The lawsuit is about a line in the last episode of the highly successful series that won two Golden Globes earlier this year and that is expected to win several prizes at the 2021 Emmy Awards on Sunday.
While the main protagonist is playing a tournament in Moscow, 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.”
This, however, is far from the truth and even somewhat ironic. The now 80-year-old Gaprindashvili, who still plays in senior tournaments, is in fact the first female player ever to gain the “general” grandmaster title, which she achieved in 1978. In addition to holding the women’s world champion title for 16 years (1962-1978), the Georgian chess legend often played in open tournaments as well and faced many men, including three world champions: GMs Mikhail Tal, Boris Spassky, and Viswanathan Anand.
In its coverage of the lawsuit, The New York Times mentions that a headline of one of their articles from 1968 reads, “Chess: Miss Gaprindashvili Beats 7 Men in a Strong Tourney.”
The newspaper quotes Gaprindashvili, speaking in Georgian, in a recent video interview arranged by her lawyers that was translated to English by her grandson: “They were trying to do this fictional character who was blazing the trail for other women, when in reality I had already blazed the trail and inspired generations…. It was an insulting experience. This is my entire life that has been crossed out as though it is not important.”
Interestingly, the 1983 novel The Queen’s Gambit by Walter Tevis, on which the series was largely based, does not state that Gaprindashvili had never faced men. In fact, the book reads: “There was Nona Gaprindashvili, not up to the level of this tournament, but a player who had met all these Russian Grandmasters many times before.”
The lawsuit’s 25-page complaint, available online here, claims that Beth Harmon’s character “plainly draws on” Gaprindashvili’s achievements: “Harmon is in many respects an Americanized and fictionalized 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.”
The Queen’s Gambit was watched by over 62 million households in just the first month after its release. Partly because of this big success, the suit claims that the line she had “never faced men” causes professional harm to Gaprindashvili:
“The false statements have caused Gaprindashvili personal humiliation, distress, and anguish, as well as damages to her profits and earnings, and her ongoing capacity to engage in her professional livelihood in the world of chess. She has thus suffered ‘special damages’ in the form of pecuniary losses and lost business opportunities of no less than $75,000, and general and damages [sic] of no less than $5,000,000, all to be to be [sic] established at trial.
The producer of the series has provided the following statement: “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.”