The world’s first female chess grandmaster, Nona Gaprindashvili, has filed a $5mn defamation lawsuit against Netflix over a line in its The Queen’s Gambit series, which her lawyers say is false and sexist.
The 80-year old Soviet chess icon, a hero in her native South Caucasus Republic of Georgia, was described in the show’s last episode as a female champion who had “never faced men”.
The suit filed on Gaprindashvili’s behalf in a US federal court in Los Angeles said that the reference to her was “degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions”.
The legal papers seen by Reuters said the five-times world champion was “the first woman in history to achieve the status of international chess grandmaster among men”.
She had played against at least 59 male chess players by 1968, the year in which the episode was set, according to the legal papers, beating 28.
“Netflix brazenly and deliberately lied about Gaprindashvili’s achievements,” the lawsuit says. “The allegation that Gaprindashvili ‘has never faced men’ is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling.
“Piling on additional insult to injury, Netflix described Gaprindashvili as Russian, despite knowing that she was Georgian.”
Born in 1941 in Georgia’s western town of Zugdidi, Gaprindashvili has played chess since she was 13.
She won the female World Championship aged 20 and defended her title successfully four times, before losing her crown to another Georgian, 17-year-old Maia Chiburdanidze, in 1978.
That same year she became the first woman to be awarded the title of grandmaster by the FIDE.
Netflix did not immediately reply to a request for comment but was cited in US media as saying that it would “vigorously defend the case”.
“We believe this claim has no merit,” a spokesperson for US streaming giant was quoted as saying.
The Queen’s Gambit, based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, tells the story of young orphan Beth Harmon who becomes the world’s best chess player in the Cold War era.
Harmon, who is played by Anya Taylor-Joy, is described by Netflix as someone “determined to conquer the traditional boundaries established in the male-dominated world of competitive chess”.
The series won two Golden Globes this year and nabbed 18 nominations at this weekend’s 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards.
It is said to have inspired more women to take up chess.
Gaprindashvili’s lawyers say the series, released in October 2020, caused her professional harm and want the line about her never facing men removed, calling it “grossly sexist and belittling”.
The lawsuit accuses the series of continuing to cause Gaprindashvili, who competes in senior chess tournaments, “irreparable damage”.
Netflix, headquartered in California, hired Russian former world champion Garry Kasparov and American national master Bruce Pandolfini as their consultants.
Netflix says The Queen’s Gambit has become its “biggest limited scripted series ever” with 62mn households watching the miniseries in its first 28 days.
As of July 2021, the California-headquartered streaming service provider had 209mn subscribers.
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