The Queen's Gambit: Netflix to Face Lawsuit From Former Chess Champion

The lawsuit against Netflix's juggernaut limited series The Queen's Gambit is one step closer to moving forward. On Thursday (via Variety), a judge reportedly refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Nona Gaprindashvili, a former chess master who became a chess master in the Soviet Union in 1960s, and is accusing the series of defamation. The lawsuit is due to a reference to Gaprindashvili in the series, with a scene set in 1968 falsely claiming that she had "never faced men" during chess events. Gaprindashvili disputed the line, revealing that she had faced 59 male competitors at that point, and deemed the comment "grossly sexist and belittling."

Netflix claimed that the show was ficticious and therefore protected by the First Amendment, and that the goal of the reference to her in the series was to "recognize her, not disparage her." U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips argued otherwise, and that the series being a work of fiction did not make it immune from the consequences of making 

"Netflix does not cite, and the Court is not aware, of any cases precluding defamation claims for the portrayal of real persons in otherwise fictional works," Phillips wrote. "The fact that the Series was a fictional work does not insulate Netflix from liability for defamation if all the elements of defamation are otherwise present."

"An average viewer easily could interpret the Line, as Plaintiff contends, as 'disparaging the accomplishments of Plaintiff' and 'carr[ying] the stigma that women bear a badge of inferiority' that fictional American woman Harmon, but not Plaintiff, could overcome," the judge wrote. "At the very least, the line is dismissive of the accomplishments central to Plaintiff's reputation."

While The Queen's Gambit did feature a disclaimer about the series' events being fictionalized, Phillips ruled that the message was not enough to stop viewers from believing the claim is accurate.

"In context, therefore, Netflix 'creat[ed] the impression that [it] was asserting objective facts,'" Phillips wrote. "Plaintiff sufficiently pleads falsity because the Line is 'reasonably susceptible of an interpretation which implies a provably false assertion of fact.'"

The Queen's Gambit is now streaming on Netflix.