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Poised to win big at the 2021 Emmy Awards this weekend, the Anya Taylor-Joy starrer has found itself in the middle of a legal drama more than a year after it was released.
In court filings accessed by Deadline, Gaprindashvili alleges that the makers of the show about fictional American chess prodigy Beth Harmon (Taylor-Joy) have deliberately and knowingly misrepresented truths about the Georgian grandmaster’s pathbreaking career.
The lawsuit highlights the series finale “End Game”, during which a commentator references Gaprindashvili, after Harmon beats Russian grandmaster Viktor Laev, another fictional character, at the Moscow Invitationals.
The commentator says: “The only unusual thing about her [Harmon], 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.”
The camera then pans to a woman in the audience who, the lawsuit said, “is obviously meant to be Gaprindashvili”.
The allegation that Gaprindashvili has never competed against men is “manifestly false”, “grossly sexist” and “belittling”, according to the 25-page complaint filed in Federal District Court in Los Angeles.
“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 10 grandmasters of that time,” the filing added.
In the Queens Gambit, Nona Gaprindashvili (a real person) is introduced as “a female world champion, who has never faced men”, which is total rubbish. "it’s dishonouring to have misinformation spread about someone’s achievements." https://t.co/BEBQY79eld
— Anthony Shaw 🐍 (@anthonypjshaw) November 30, 2020
The lawsuit added that despite having these facts, Netflix “brazenly and deliberately” lied, with “actual malice” about the 80-year-old’s achievements for the “cheap” purpose of “heightening the drama”.
Netflix’s depiction of Gaprindashvili as Russian, not Georgian, added further “insult to injury”.
In a statement to NBC News on Thursday, a spokesperson for the streaming giant said: “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.”
Gaprindashvili said she confronted the streaming giant over these alleged lies after the series aired but Netflix dismissed her assertions and claimed the scene was harmless.
Netflix also refused to offer a retraction, re-dub the voiceover or issue a public statement, she added.
Chess realism part that bothered me was the erasure of actual women's histories in chess while lots of anecdotes about men players to make Harmon more extraordinary. Nona Gaprindashvili is misrepresented as never competing against men. She tied for first in mixed Hasting's '63.
— Steve Coyle (@SEHCoyle) November 20, 2020
The lawsuit said there were four instances of “actual malice” on the part of Netflix, including “deliberately” altering the text of Walter Tevis’s eponymous 1983 novel that The Queen’s Gambit is based on.
Gaprindashvili’s lawyers made the case that the mini-series, which was viewed by 62 million people, has done irreparable damage to their client’s reputation by implying that she “lacked the skills” to compete against men.
“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 trailblazer who had actually faced and defeated men on the world stage in the same era.”