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The female Soviet chess champion Nona Gaprindashvili is suing Netflix for $5m for a line in its hit series The Queen’s Gambit that claimed she “never played men”, calling the assertion “grossly sexist and belittling”.
The lawsuit, filed on Thursday in the federal district court in Los Angeles, attempts to set the record straight in the fictional account of Beth Harmon, played by Anya Taylor-Joy, who travels to Moscow for a series of chess matches against Soviet champions.
Harmon is portrayed as a complex character plagued by addiction struggles. But her Soviet opponents, including one loosely based on the champion Boris Spassky, are more two-dimensional.
In the series finale, a character says: “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.”
Gaprindashvili, who is now 80 and lives in Tbilisi, Georgia, did face men. Dozens in fact. According to the lawsuit, she had faced 59 men, including 28 in one simultaneous match, as well as 10 grandmasters by the time the television series was set in 1968.
“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,” Gaprindashvili said in an interview with the New York Times. “That’s the irony.”
The damages are sought for what the suit claims is a “devastating falsehood, undermining and degrading her accomplishments before an audience of many millions”.
The suit also noted that the film portrayed her as Russian, while she is Georgian and was born in Zugdidi, Georgia.
Gaprindashvili began playing chess in her teens and went on to win her first of five women’s world chess championship titles aged 21. She won the almost universally male Hastings Challengers tournament of 1963-64 and defeated all of the British masters in the following year’s premier tournament. She was the first woman to be awarded the title of international grandmaster by FIDE in 1978.
“This is my entire life that has been crossed out, as though it is not important,” she told the New York Times.
In a statement published by the newspaper, Netflix said it “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.”
The Netflix show is an adaptation of the 1983 novel by Walter Tevis. It was a breakout hit, with more than 62m households tuning in within a month of its release, Netflix said. That made it “our biggest limited scripted series ever”, the streaming service wrote.