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The Line In The Queen's Gambit That's Getting Netflix Sued For Millions

When "The Queen's Gambit" was released on Netflix on October 23, 2020, it became an instant hit. It was so popular that it even became Netflix's most-watched scripted limited series ever, as reported by Variety. It was also widely praised by critics — with everything from its writing to star Anya Taylor-Joy's performance championed.

The series follows the fictional Beth Harmon (Taylor-Joy), an orphan who discovers she has a natural talent and ability for chess. Beginning with Beth as a young child, the series progresses through her adolescence, as she hones her chess strategies and struggles through adiction. It ends with her as a young adult, when she competes against — and ultimately beats — the current world champion Vasily Borgov (Marcin Dorociński).

"The Queen's Gambit," which takes place in the 1950s and 1960s, frames Beth as essentially the only woman competing at such a high level in chess. Her gender is constantly remarked upon and she is, at least at first, constantly underestimated. The portrayal of the fictional Beth brought about comparisons to real-life female-identifying chess players, including the first female-identifying grandmaster, Nona Gaprindashvili (via Chessable). It turns out, however, that Gaprindashvili has an issue with one line of "The Queen's Gambit" — and she's taken action against Netflix.

The Queen's Gambit claimed Gaprindashvili 'never faced men'

In the final episode of "The Queen's Gambit," as Beth is facing off against Borgov, the commentator for the game is discussing how rare it is that Beth, a woman, is competing at this level. The commentator continues, "There's Nona Gaprindashvili, but she's the female world champion and has never faced men." The line once again emphasizes the history that Beth is making in the chess world and, when she beats the world champion (who has been her biggest competitor the whole series), it's a satisfying win both for Beth and for women. 

The issue with the commentator's line, however, is that Gaprindashvili, now 80 years old, actually did face men in her career, beating many of them, as The Washington Post reports. In fact, in 1968, which is the exact year that scene in the show takes place, Gaprindashvili was the only woman competing in the International Tournament in Gothenburg, Sweden. During this tournament, she played against nine men and beat seven of them, placing third. The (false) line in "The Queen's Gambit" is now the basis of a false light and defamation lawsuit by Gaprindashvili against Netflix. The lawsuit is asking for at least $5 million in damages.

Netflix disputes the lawsuit

The lawsuit states, "The allegation that Gaprindashvili 'has never faced men' is manifestly false, as well as being grossly sexist and belittling. 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."

It also brings attention to the irony of disregarding a real-life woman's accomplishment for the sake of their story about a fictional trailblazing female-identifying chess player. Gaprindashvili said in a video interview, "They were trying to do this fictional character who was blazing the trail for other women, when in reality I had already blazed the trail and inspired generations. That's the irony" (via The New York Times). She added, "Not many things can damage me emotionally. But this was surprising to me — and humiliating."

In turn, Netflix has responded publicly to the lawsuit, stating that they don't find it to be of merit. Netflix told the NYT, "Netflix has only the utmost respect for Ms. Gaprindashvili and her illustrious career, but we believe this claim has no merit and will vigorously defend the case."