28 May 2022,   06:13
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Netflix must face “Queen’s Gambit” lawsuit from Chess Great, judge says - VARIATY on Nona Gaprindashvili case

A judge on Thursday refused to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a Georgian chess master who alleged that she was defamed in an episode of the Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit”, writes the VARIATY.

“Nona Gaprindashvili, who rose to prominence as a chess player in the Soviet Union in the 1960s, sued Netflix in federal court in September. She took issue with a line in the series in which a character stated – falsely - that Gaprindashvili had “never faced men”. Gaprindashvili argued that the line was “grossly sexist and belittling,” noting that she had in fact faced 59 male competitors by 1968, the year in which the series was set.

Netflix sought to have the suit dismissed, arguing that the show is a work of fiction, and that the First Amendment gives show creators broad artistic license. But in a ruling on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Virginia A. Phillips disagreed, finding that Gaprindashvili had made a plausible argument that she was defamed. Phillips also held that works of fiction are not immune from defamation suits if they disparage real people.

“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”.

“The Queen’s Gambit” is based on a 1983 novel by Walter Tevis, and follows a fictional American character, Beth Harmon, who becomes an international chess champion in the 1960s. In the final episode, set in Moscow, Harmon defeats a male competitor. A chess announcer explains that her opponent underestimated her: “Elizabeth Harmon’s not at all an important player by their standards. 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”.

Netflix argued that it had relied on two chess experts in an effort to get the details right, and that the show creators meant no offense to Gaprindashvili. “The Series’ reference to Plaintiff was intended to recognize her, not disparage her”, - the streamer’s lawyers argued”, - writes the author.

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