Streaming giant Netflix may soon have to go to court in a defamation lawsuit over its hit series The Queen’s Gambit, after it lost an appeal to have the case thrown out.
Netflix is being accused of misrepresenting “one of the most significant career achievements” of female chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili in the series.
The Georgian chess player has taken issue with a line in the drama which her lawyers said had been broadcast “before millions of viewers worldwide” and “tarnished (her) personal and professional reputation”.
The Queen’s Gambit is about fictional chess player Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy), but frequent references are made to real-life figures from the game – including Gaprindashvili.
In the final episode of the series, a commentator during a chess game compares Harmon’s achievements with that of Gaprindashvili’s but says the real-life figure “never faced men” while playing – even though she did.
In its defence, Netflix said that “no reasonable viewer would have understood the line to convey a statement of fact” due the series being “an entirely fictional work,” according to legal documents obtained by the PA news agency.
It adds that for viewers to know that there is an alleged defamation, they would need a “knowledge of competitive Soviet chess in the 1960s”.
However, in a court ruling on Thursday, a California Central District Court judge said that there was no evidence of “precluding defamation claims for the portrayal of real persons in otherwise fictional works.
“On the contrary, 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 legal documents said.
Gaprindashvili’s lawyers said that she was the first woman in history to be made an International Chess Grandmaster, adding: “During Plaintiff’s career, she encountered severe prejudice because she was a woman – and often the only woman – competing amongst men.
“When the series aired, multiple news outlets and various individual internet users commented on the inaccuracy of the line.
“Plaintiff states that the line ‘misrepresented one of (her) most significant career achievements… before millions of viewers worldwide’ and ‘tarnished (her) personal and professional reputation’.”
They continued: “Plaintiff’s life-long career is in the world of competitive chess, in which she remains an active leader, role-model, and competitor.
“Plaintiff contends that the line cuts to the heart of her hard-won standing in her profession.
“The professional reputation and brand of Gaprindashvili was inextricably bound up with her courageous efforts to face and defeat estimable male opponents when chess was overwhelmingly a man’s world.”