Netflix hit The Queen's Gambit is suddenly under fire

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Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

The Queen's Gambit premiered on Netflix last year with minimal to zero buzz surrounding it, but that didn't stop the drama from becoming one of 2020's televisual crown jewels in a matter of weeks. It earned near-unanimous praise from critics and audiences, picking up numerous awards including an Emmy for Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series.

The show, which is based on Walter Tevis's novel of the same name, revolves around Anya-Taylor-Joy's Beth Harmon, a chess prodigy who is also grappling with drug and alcohol addiction.

According to Netflix's figures (which must always be taken with a pinch of salt), a colossal 62 million households watched the show during its first 28 days on the platform, and that number will, of course, have continued to rise between then and now.

But not everyone views The Queen's Gambit with such fondness.

Photo credit: Netflix
Photo credit: Netflix

Nona Gaprindashvili, a Georgian chess champion who was the first woman to be named a grandmaster, the highest honour awarded in chess, is suing Netflix over one specific detail in the series.

In the finale, her name makes it into the script, but the now 80-year-old is deeply unhappy with how she's been portrayed.

"Elizabeth Harmon's not at all an important player by their standards," says a commentator during one of Beth's matches (from around the 30-minute mark onwards). "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."

But Gaprindashvili did, in fact, achieve victory over multiple male opponents (at least 59, including 10 grandmasters, according to her calculations), which provoked her into launching a lawsuit against Netflix. She is seeking $5 million (£3.64m) worth of damages over the remark, which her lawyers claim is a "devastating falsehood, undermining and degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions".

The 25-page case added: "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.

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

Photo credit: Stanley Sherman - Getty Images
Photo credit: Stanley Sherman - Getty Images

Gaprindashvili also wants the quote, which the lawsuit says was altered from that which appears in the source material, to be removed from the drama.

Speaking in Georgian in a recent video, which was translated into English by her grandson, she explained (via The New York Times): "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."

Speaking about her rise to fame as a chess player, Gaprindashvili discussed the unique challenges she faced as a woman: "It took a year of fighting to get accepted. Whenever they saw me as a small, short, young girl, they would tell me to get in line – to play next time, but not now. But I always asserted my place."

When you consider her journey and how it was subsequently summed up in The Queen's Gambit, her indignation is understandable.

"Not many things can damage me emotionally, but this was surprising to me — and humiliating," she added.

Gaprindashvili has also taken issue with the fact that she is portrayed as Russian in the series, despite her Georgian heritage, "and that Georgians had suffered under Russian domination when part of the Soviet Union, and had been bullied and invaded by Russia thereafter".

But the streamer doesn't appear to be budging on this one.

"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," said the company in a statement (via NYT).

Digital Spy has reached out to Netflix for further comment.

The Queen's Gambit is available to stream now on Netflix.

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