Never count out a chess champion. Netflix has reportedly settled a lawsuit with Nona Gaprindashvili, the female chess champion and grand master who sued the streaming platform over a line of dialogue in The Queen’s Gambit, which her lawyers claimed perpetuated a “devastating falsehood.”
In September of last year, Gaprindashvili filed suit after being name-checked in the finale of The Queen’s Gambit, Netflix’s Emmy-winning limited series about fictional female chess champ Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy. While Beth Harmon is competing in a 1968 tournament in Moscow, a chess commentator compares the fictional Harmon to real-life Gaprindashvili, calling Gaprindashvili the “female world champion” and saying that she “has never faced men” before panning to a character in the audience who resembles Gaprindashvili.
In her lawsuit, the 80-year-old Gaprindashvili said that by 1968 she “had competed against at least 59 male chess players (28 of them simultaneously in one game)” over the course of her historic career which saw her become the first woman to be named a chess grand master. The suit continued, calling Netflix’s assertion that Gaprindashvili never faced men “manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling.” In an interview with The New York Times, Gaprindashvili described her portrayal in The Queen’s Gambit as “an insulting experience,” saying “this is my entire life that has been crossed out, as though it is not important.” She sought at least $5 million in damages, as well as the line’s removal from The Queen’s Gambit.
“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,” said the complaint. “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.”
Per The New York Times, Netflix argued in court papers that it had been exercising “its constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue” and that “fictional works have no obligation to the truth.” In January, a federal judge declined to dismiss the suit, rejecting Netflix’s argument and finding that the streamer acted with a “reckless disregard” for the truth. “Not only does this close the gap between associating the supposedly fictional character with the real person, 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,” wrote U.S. District Judge Virginia Phillips in her opinion.
Netflix ultimately appealed the ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which agreed to review the case. However, according to court documents filed in June, Netflix and representatives for Gaprindashvili were “working with the Ninth Circuit mediator to explore settlement.”
As for the settlement, a lawyer for Gaprindashvili, Alexander Rufus-Isaacs, said, “I am pleased that the matter has been resolved,” but declined to say how the case was resolved and whether Gaprindashvili received any money in the settlement. Netflix echoed Rufus-Isaacs statement, saying that it was “pleased that the matter has been resolved.”