This week, a judge refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Georgian chess grandmaster who alleged that she was defamed in an episode of the Netflix series 'The Queen’s Gambit'.
'The Queen's Gambit' was released on Netflix in October 2020 and became one of the streamer's most-watched miniseries.
A $5 million defamation lawsuit was lodged against Netflix by Soviet and Georgian chess player Nona Gaprindashvili last September.
Nona Gaprindashvili is mentioned briefly in the final episode of 'The Queen's Gambit' as a commentator remarked that she "has never faced men."
Gaprindashvili was the first woman to ever be awarded the FIDE title Grandmaster and in fact played both men and women throughout her career.
The lawsuit reads: "The allegation that Gaprindashvili 'has never faced men' is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling.
"By 1968, the year in which this episode is set, she had competed against at least 59 male chess players (28 of them simultaneously in one game), including at least ten Grandmasters of that time, including Dragolyub Velimirovich, Svetozar Gligoric, Paul Keres, Bojan Kurajica, Boris Spassky, Viswanathan Anand and Mikhail Tal. The last three were also world champions during their careers.
"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.
"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. This arrogant refusal to take responsibility for its actions was shockingly tone-deaf, given the sexism and offensiveness of its lie."
Netflix had sought to have the suit dismissed. They argued that the show is a work of fiction, and that the First Amendment gives show creators artistic license.
A ruling on Thursday by U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips found that Gaprindashvili had made a plausible argument that she was defamed.
Phillips wrote: "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.
"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."
Phillips added: "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.
"At the very least, the line is dismissive of the accomplishments central to Plaintiff's reputation."